Published by Doubleday Books on November 5, 2019
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.
I read The Night Circus several years ago, so I had a little bit of an idea what to expect to this new book from Morgenstern. Basically, it would have beautiful descriptive language, but would meander and probably jump around. And I wasn’t wrong!
The Starless Sea is basically the story of Zachary Ezra Rawlins, a college student who happens upon a strange old book in the library that ends up containing a story perfectly describing an incident in his youth. As he tries to figure out where this book comes from and how he ended up in it, he gets sucked into a much larger story, and eventually into a world beneath the world, where stories live and the Starless Sea reigns.
This is not a fast read. In between Zachary’s story you get excerpts from his book and others, short stories that you don’t quite know the nature of. Are they metaphors? Allegories? History? The future? And because of this jumping around and the descriptive language, this is not a book you can rush through. You also can’t expect to understand what’s going on most of the time. I think I finally grasped it by the end, but it’s not a simple story. Oftentimes the story has a bit of a fever dream quality, and you’re not quite sure if what you’re reading is really happening.
This brand of fantasy/magical realism isn’t usually my thing, but I enjoy the rhythm and feel of Morgenstern’s writing. This book probably isn’t for everyone, but if you liked The Night Circus, I think you’ll like this one.
I read this for the PopSugar Reading Challenge this year, and this book fulfilled the “book with a main character in their 20s” prompt.
- “The Starless Sea captured everything I love about stories and turned it into a brand new story to share. It captures the fantastical and whimsical, the chaos and longing, the love and the lost.” — NovelKnight
- “As I mentioned, I did enjoy this story. I do think I could have been a better reader of this book and I feel my slow reading and lack of attentiveness may have contributed to my enjoying it maybe a bit less than others.” — Worlds Within Pages Blog
- “This is a book for all of us. It’s a book about books, about magical doors and escapism, about love and friendship, bravery and adventure. While reading, this felt like home, like sitting by a warm fire with a cup of hot chocolate and a warm blanket around me.” — Bookish Heights