Book Review | The Starless Sea (ARC)

Although I haven’t read The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern (yet), I couldn’t resist reading an advance copy of her new novel, The Starless Sea. Since this version is just a proof and not the final version, I won’t quote directly and will keep my comments general.

When Zachary Ezra Rawlins wanders through the fiction section of his university’s library, he finds an old mis-shelved book. He starts reading only to find an account of a weird occurrence from his own childhood. Confused, since this book was clearly written decades before he was born, Zachary investigates. His search takes him to an unusual place: the Starless Sea, a massive, magical, sort-of library hidden beneath the world. He meets people who seek to protect the stories there and those who seem bent on the place’s destruction. With allies Mirabel and Dorian, Zachary must unravel the secrets of the Sea and discover his own role in its fate.

The writing in this novel is, overall, lovely. Morgenstern uses a lot of comma splices, which as an aspiring editor I feel the need to mention. However, I forgave her because I was so captivated by her story. Zachary’s experience is punctuated by other tales which are almost standalone short stories—though as the narrative progresses, they take on deeper significance. This is an impressive, clever method of establishing the world as well as advancing the plot, and Morgenstern does it brilliantly. 

The characters are excellent. Zachary is a relatable protagonist; he’s often unsure of himself, but I found him endearing and well-rounded. Mirabel is a fun foil for him—witty and confident and mysterious. But Dorian was probably my favorite, with a complicated past and a moving development. I enjoyed his involvement in the plot, though I wish we could have gotten more of his backstory. Or maybe I just wanted more Dorian in general. Yeah, that’s probably it.

Other characters like Eleanor, Simon, the Keeper, and Kat are also fantastic. Each is distinct and feels like a fully realized person. I really like them all, and was glad to accompany them on this journey.

And this journey really is meant for book lovers. Without a deep appreciation for stories and curling up with a novel in a library, it would be hard to connect with this book. Most of the magic of the Starless Sea is in the books that dwell in its harbors, and literary references pepper the pages of this novel. Even though the end verges on bizarre, magical-realism-ish, you are left feeling as if you’ve emerged from a vivid daydream when you turn the last page.

In the end, The Starless Sea is fascinating. Wonderful characters I had many emotions about, a romance I was so invested in, a marvelously strange plot that weaves through candlelit, honey-scented realms, and a tale penned by an author who clearly understands and adores the power of words makes this novel something special. It might not be for everyone, but it worked pretty well for me. I want to read it again to take it all in. And I can’t wait to read The Night Circus!

Overall rating: 8.8/10

The Starless Sea is due to be published in November 2019!

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