It was a 6-hour bus ride home from Los Angeles and I was bored and wanted to kill time by reading a random book but was worried that it might make me dizzy because my eyes are kinda tired. So I decided to download Audible in my phone and once again thought of giving audiobooks a chance. I downloaded the first interesting book I saw (this one!) and little did I know that it would open a door (pun intended) of wonder and magic for me – and I wouldn’t want to leave.
Title: The Starless Sea
Author: Erin Morgenstern
Publisher: Double Day Books
Publication Date: November 5, 2019
Genre: Fantasy, Romantic Fantasy, Adult, Fiction
Zachary Ezra Rawlins is a graduate student in Vermont when he discovers a mysterious book hidden in the stacks. As he turns the pages, entranced by tales of lovelorn prisoners, key collectors, and nameless acolytes, he reads something strange: a story from his own childhood. Bewildered by this inexplicable book and desperate to make sense of how his own life came to be recorded, Zachary uncovers a series of clues–a bee, a key, and a sword–that lead him to a masquerade party in New York, to a secret club, and through a doorway to an ancient library, hidden far below the surface of the earth.
What Zachary finds in this curious place is more than just a buried home for books and their guardians–it is a place of lost cities and seas, lovers who pass notes under doors and across time, and of stories whispered by the dead. Zachary learns of those who have sacrificed much to protect this realm, relinquishing their sight and their tongues to preserve this archive, and also those who are intent on its destruction.
Together with Mirabel, a fierce, pink-haired protector of the place, and Dorian, a handsome, barefoot man with shifting alliances, Zachary travels the twisting tunnels, darkened stairwells, crowded ballrooms, and sweetly-soaked shores of this magical world, discovering his purpose–in both the mysterious book and in his own life. (via Goodreads)
“Not all stories speak to all listeners, but all listeners can find a story that does, somewhere, sometime. In one form or another.”
To say that I thoroughly enjoyed The Starless Sea is an understatement. I loved every word in it and every minute of it. If I could pocket this book and carry this everywhere, I would – knowing that I will hold a little piece of magic with me all the time. It has all the elements that I like – it’s like Erin Morgenstern picked my brain and took out all of my dreams and wishes and concocted this perfection of a book. The lush writing. The whimsical feel. The slow, quiet romances. Romances that span time and space. Happy endings (Is this a spoiler? I don’t know.) Interesting and quirky characters. Time travel. Stories within a story. An alternate universe. Reading. Books.
It was all put into motion when Zachary Ezra Rawlins discovers a mysterious book from the university library. It seemed like a really old, ordinary book – until he read a story, about a son of a fortune teller – and realized that he is reading about an event in his life that he hasn’t even told anyone. This lead him to curious people and even more curious places as he embarked in a quest to find answers to his questions. This was told through alternating perspectives as well as inserts of random excerpts from the books that drove the story forward: Sweet Sorrows, Fortunes and Fables, and The Ballad of Simon and Eleanor, and other ones.
“…it tastes older than stories. It tastes like myth.”
I can’t even begin to properly describe this book: It was like Murakami’s Strange Library – but on steroids. It’s like Alice’s Adventures in the Wonderland if Alice is a 25-year old guy and Wonderland is a rabbit hole of stories and myths that blur the line between reality and fantasy. It reminds me so much of the mysterious and ominous atmosphere of Strange the Dreamer coupled with the whimsical notes of An Enchantment of Ravens. This is Hotel California (yep, that song) and A Wrinkle in Time. It’s a mixture of a lot of things that made it unique and interesting. I even have a Professor Layton music playing in my head while I was reading this. It was so atmospheric it drives me crazy just remembering it.
I spent two days, distracted, trying to listen to snippets of this book every chance I get. I know I will always love fantasy books but there’s a special place in my heart for books as immersive as this. I’m not sure if it was because of the narration (which, by the way is A+++! ) but I can visualize the scenes, the paintings, the emotions playing on the characters’ faces so clearly it was as if a movie is playing in my head. That revelatory painting at almost two-thirds of the book was described so vividly it’s as if I am seeing it with my own two eyes. Even now, I can close my eyes and I can recall it – each of the little details – and it gives me goosebumps just thinking about it. This is one of those books that desperately makes me want to learn to draw just for me to render what is in my imagination and pull it out of my head.
“Strange, isn’t it? To love a book. When the words on the pages become so precious that they feel like part of your own history because they are. It’s nice to finally have someone read stories I know so intimately.”
I loved how they touched on the importance of stories and endings. Of Fate and Time. Of choices. While I will understand if some readers will say the the beginning might feel a bit disjointed and muddled, I never would’ve wanted to change anything. This is a book that asks for patience, for the reader to wait and see. Do just that and I will promise that it will be worth it – it was for me, at least. It is trippy and weird. And I like that it surprised me, in so many places and so many ways, because (sadly) rarely does a book do that to me these days ,and at that frequency to boot. There are things that I didn’t expect to happen 2 or 3 chapters ago that flipped the story to an almost 180-degree. It is sort of like those text-based adventure games where each choice will affect the next one. I loved how gradually and elegantly things were revealed. It doesn’t have a single climax as the usual narratives go – instead, it comes in waves – building and building until an epic conclusion that feels enough and open for possibilities at the same time.
I think part of what made me fall in love with this book is because of how “quiet” it is. I’ve always found myself liking this kind of books so it might be just a personal preference – but there’s a certain charm in the slow and steady hum of its narrative. The words are lyrical to an almost poetic degree and it made my heart skip a beat because I know that I will gush about this even just for the writing itself if it turned out that the story is mediocre.
But that’s not to say that the story is boring. Quiet is not always equivalent to boring. I can’t even begin to fathom how Erin Morgenstern managed to weave a tale this intricate. I feel like if I just read this book half-heartedly, I will miss a lot of things. This is the kind of book that demands attention and focus because you can easily get lost. And I am really, really glad that it captured my attention in its entirety – otherwise, I might’ve miss this magnificent gem and not have fully appreciated it.
“We are all stardust and stories.”
When I finished this book, my heart was hurting because I didn’t want it to end. But at the same time, it’s soaring because it felt like I just experienced magic in the hands of a book once again. I am reading books regularly, but I feel like sometimes, the spark and the magic is waning and it makes me sad. I feel like this book restored my faith in stories once again. I came here without reading The Night Circus first… but if this is what Erin Morgenstern has to offer, I definitely want more! I recommend this book with all my heart. 🤍
Thank you, Erin, for the words and the magic and the feeling. Thank you for making me feel homesick again for places I’ve never been to. This book left indelible marks on me – marks that are shaped like a bee, a key and a sword. 🤍
Thoughts on the Audiobook:
I don’t think I will be able to enjoy this book as much as I did if not for the excellent narration. This was narrated primarily by Dominic Hoffman along with Dion Graham, Bahni Turpin, Allan Corduner, Fiona Hardingham, and Jorjeana Marie – yep, they have a full cast. This was produced by Penguin Random House Audio.
Seriously, it was sooo good – and that’s coming from someone who is not usually fond of audiobooks. This is my baseline now of what a good audiobook should sound like. Please do give it a try. 🤍
“It is easier to be in love in a room with closed doors. To have the whole world in one room. One person. The universe condensed and intensified and burning, bright and alive and electric.”
“Everyone wants the stars. Everyone wishes to grasp that which exists out of reach. To hold the extraordinary in their hands and keep the remarkable in their pockets.”
“A reading major, that’s what he wants. No response papers, no exams, no analysis, just the reading.”
“How are you feeling? Zachary asks. “Like I’m losing my mind but in a slow, achingly beautiful sort of way.”
“But the world is strange and endings are not truly endings no matter how the stars might wish it so.”
“This is a rabbit hole. Do you want to know the secret to surviving once you’ve gone down the rabbit hole?”
Zachary nods and Mirabel leans forward. Her eyes are ringed with gold.
“Be a rabbit,” she whispers.”
“Be brave,” she says. “Be bold. Be loud. Never change for anyone but yourself. Any soul worth their star-stuff will take the whole package as is and however it grows. Don’t waste your time on anyone who doesn’t believe you when you tell them how you feel.”
“For those who feel homesick for a place they’ve never been to. Those who seek even if they do not know what (or where) it is that they are seeking. Those who seek will find. Their doors have been waiting for them.”
“I think the best stories feel like they’re still going, somewhere, out in story space.”
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10 thoughts on “Review: The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern”
This is one of those beautiful books that I almost want to read just because of the cover but since I haven’t read anything by this author before (and the hype around the Night Circus only makes me want to read it less), I didn’t really consider reading it. But you’ve described a dream, just an absolutely amazing book that I’m sure I’ll love. So thanks for the review and I’ll be adding this to my tbr now.
Also, from your other references to this book, I wonder if you’ve read Sorcery of Thorns? It’s fairly similar to Strange and this one ( about books, readers, the wonders of libraries, stories and such), so I think you migth enjoy it as well.
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Ah, you should’ve seen the Waterstone exclusive cover. It is so pretty I am tempted. And yes, I’ve read Sorcery. I love Silas and Nathaniel <3. I might need to edit this post and add it here HAHA but I've always felt like Enchantment is more atmospheric and whimsical than Sorcery for some reason. Thanks for the comment! Read this book and hit me up if you want to scream. 🙂
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Thank you for writing this blog! I didn’t like Erin Morgenstern’s The Night Circus so I wasn’t sure if this book would be for me. But after reading how much you love it and how magical it is, you’ve successfully convinced me! Can’t wait to get my hands on it!
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Ah I’m glad I am this close to converting you. I am thinking of picking up The Night Circus because I absolutely loved this one. Let me know what you think of this when you read it. 🙂 Thanks for the comment!
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Wow, that’s some review. Very tempted to read this, I loved Night Circus.
Excited for you to read this! And I’m excited for me to read The Night Circus, too. Let me know what you think if you ever get around to reading The Starless Sea. 🙂
Aww, yes I will. 🙂