Monday, March 16, 2020

The Starless Sea - Erin Morgenstern

Summary: Far beneath the surface of the earth, upon the shores of the Starless Sea, there is a labyrinthine collection of tunnels and rooms filled with stories. The entryways that lead to this sanctuary are often hidden, sometimes on forest floors, sometimes in private homes, sometimes in plain sight. But those who seek will find. Their doors have been waiting for them.

Zachary Ezra Rawlins is searching for his door, though he does not know it. He follows a silent siren song, an inexplicable knowledge that he is meant for another place. When he discovers a mysterious book in the stacks of his campus library he begins to read, entranced by tales of lovelorn prisoners, lost cities, and nameless acolytes. Suddenly a turn of the page brings Zachary to a story from his own childhood impossibly written in this book that is older than he is.

A bee, a key, and a sword emblazoned on the book lead Zachary to two people who will change the course of his life: Mirabel, a fierce, pink-haired painter, and Dorian, a handsome, barefoot man with shifting alliances. These strangers guide Zachary through masquerade party dances and whispered back room stories to the headquarters of a secret society where doorknobs hang from ribbons, and finally through a door conjured from paint to the place he has always yearned for. Amid twisting tunnels filled with books, gilded ballrooms, and wine-dark shores Zachary falls into an intoxicating world soaked in romance and mystery. But a battle is raging over the fate of this place and though there are those who would willingly sacrifice everything to protect it, there are just as many intent on its destruction. As Zachary, Mirabel, and Dorian venture deeper into the space and its histories and myths, searching for answers and each other, a timeless love story unspools, casting a spell of pirates, painters, lovers, liars, and ships that sail upon a Starless Sea.
  (Summary and pic from

My Review: I really enjoyed reading The Night Circus, which was this author’s first book. It’s gotten a ton of acclaim and press over the years, so chances are you’ve read it as well. I think we’ve all been excited to see what she came up with next. I believe the best way to describe it is as another reviewer did in that it was like taking a long drink of absinthe and then riding the way of that long drink. I’ve never had absinthe (teetotaler here), but I can assure that it was trippy to say the least.

I’m all about a good story. I like interesting goings-on and things that challenge my mind. But I’m not a huge fan of science fiction (and this book definitely goes there). I feel that in science fiction, the story often doesn’t make a lot of sense. I understand that this is where imagination takes over, and of course I am very familiar with that and the joy that comes from using one’s imagination to delve into different worlds and different experiences. But in this book (and other science fiction novels I’ve read) I feel like I was teetering on the edge of delving into a different world and something was just a fever dream of Morgenstern. Sometimes the story made sense, and sometimes there were some truly magical moments. However, sometimes the story didn’t make sense and I wasn’t sure why it mattered in the first place. Things need to matter for me, ya know?

Okay so here’s what’s great about this book: it starts out with a bang. Seriously, the beginning story is just really, really cool and captivating. It definitely makes you want to read more. This story isn’t touched on extensively, per se, although at the end you’ll see how it makes sense, which I liked. I think that reading, like real life, can sometimes be so confusing and yet in hindsight it makes sense and fits together. I can appreciate that about this book—that it doesn’t need to all make sense in the moment to make sense when it matters.

There are some great characters, and although they aren’t “great characters” in that I really related to them or could see them in my life or appreciated the realness of them, they were great characters because they were really interesting. Many of them could have their own stories (and do) and could have whole books dedicated to them and their own journey and relationship to the Starless Sea. I think this world that Morgenstern has created in The Starless Sea has potential to have a whole series of book that take place in this world she’s created, with very little overlap or repetition. To create that amount of characters that are that interesting is commendable. Most peripheral characters in a book are just fine left in the periphery. Three cheers for Morgenstern in this regard!

So I want to be one of those cool and with-it people who are like “Yeah, man, I like a good fever dream where I have no idea what is going on and I’m cool with it.” (That sentence alone proves I am not that, I believe). However, I’m not, though. I like stories that make sense. This story sometimes made sense, but for the most part it didn’t. And I didn’t love that. Like I said before, there are some really interesting moments, but I wanted those to be tied together and more cohesive.

This is a book that definitely benefits from some hindsight. While I was in it I was so confused a lot of the time, and that made for a somewhat long slog. It’s hard to be confused all the time and keep on keeping on, ya know? Looking back on the read it makes more sense now, but with that benefit of hindsight, it’s a weird feeling in that I think the story could have been a lot cooler than it was and the ideas a lot more development. There was so much potential and it ended up just being a jumbled mess.

I’m giving this three stars because there was some really interesting content and Morgenstern is so creative and a great writer. I know I’m lower than the average review, and that is because it was just needlessly confusing.

My Rating: 3 Stars

For the sensitive reader: This book has some language and some veiled love scenes between both heterosexual and homosexual couples.

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