Books & Literature

Book Review: The Starless Sea, by Erin Morgenstern

FANTASY: When Zachary Rawlins stumbles across a strange book hidden in his university library it leads him on a quest unlike any other.

For those who love evocative imagery and being immersed in a world of fantasy.

The Starless Sea is the second novel from the New York Times bestselling author of The Night Circus. Having read her first novel I was eager to get my hands on a copy of Erin Morgenstern’s latest book.

Not to turn this into a review of The Night Circus, but to give context as to why my expectations were so high, here’s a quick back-filler: After reading some good reviews I went to my local book store and read the first chapter of The Night Circus. It gave me goosebumps. I didn’t hesitate in buying a copy and headed straight home to continue reading. I would read it every night before bed as it instantly relaxed me. The story moved slowly but it was so beautifully written I didn’t care.

Unfortunately, The Starless Sea didn’t give me the same feeling.

When Zachary Ezra Rawlings stumbles across an odd book in his university library, it leads him on a magical journey into the unknown. Shocked to find a moment from his childhood written within its pages, Zachary is determined to find the author of this collection of short stories. Following the clues, he finds on the cover – a bee, a key and a sword – Zachary makes his way to a masquerade ball, a secret club and, through a magical doorway, to an underground labyrinth. Here he must navigate his way through the twisting tunnels and doors that are portals into other stories to find the ending to his story. Along the way he meets a mysterious stranger named Dorian whom he feels immediately drawn to.

The Starless Sea follows a similar underlying theme to The Night Circus – fate gives you options but you still need to choose and take action. It’s a theme that is explored more extensively and successfully in this novel. The Starless Sea felt a lot like Alice in Wonderland meets The Adjustment Bureau (2011 film), with a sprinkle of Matrix confusion.

While the story starts strong, the intrigue and fear of finding a childhood moment in a random book is enough to make anyone search for answers, but the moment Zachery enters the magical door, the confusion begins. The chapters jump between Zachery’s searches for answers, short stories found within the books he finds, and Dorian’s point of view. At times, it was hard to keep track of the point of his search, possibly because Zachery wasn’t entirely sure either. However, I was satisfied with the ending.

Erin Morgenstern has a unique writing style that’s not for everyone. The book is filled with quotes worthy of fan fiction artwork and her world-building is second to none. This novel had more focus on evocative imagery than character development so I didn’t find myself connecting with the characters and I’m not a fan of stories-within-stories, so that’s where it felt short for me.

I enjoyed the overall plot of The Starless Sea but I would have connected with it more had I felt empathy for the characters. While I didn’t love this book as much as The Night Circus, I’m sure those who enjoy evocative imagery, stories-within-stories, disjointed narrative, and being immersed within a world of fantasy should love this book.

Reviewed by Jessica Incoll
Twitter: @littlejadventur

Distributed by: Penguin Books Australia
Released: November 2019
RRP: $32.99

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