Book Reviews

The Starless Sea, by Erin Morgenstern

Starless Sea Review Image

Eight long years have passed since The Night Circus burst into the literary scene with a shower of black confetti and red rose petal, bewitching it’s readers with gorgeous prose and an imaginative world that made you never wish to leave.

Now author Erin Morgenstern is back with The Starless Sea, a story about stories, a book the intertwines myth and folk tales with modern story telling. The first four chapters alone create a paradox of story and time, providing a mystery so curious that our hero Zachary Ezra Rawlins is compelled to give chase down the rabbit hole, and what he finds is a world of faded gold, dazzling ghosts, and stories. Stories upon stories upon stories; men lost in time, girls who are rabbits, owls who are kings, pirates who are metaphors…

But also not…

“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.”

Zachary Ezra Rawlins once found a door; a door that was absolutely painted, yes, but also a door that was real, a door that was made for him to find, and open.

Except he didn’t.

On that day, child Zachary chose to walk away, but Fate has a way of finding you, regardless of how many times you turn your back on it. That is why, years later at twenty five, Zachary finds a book that will give him a second chance to enter a world made of story and dream, a city by a dark sea and a starless sky, a dying place more alive then our own world.

Zachary’s story is layered with others; legend and myth, folk and fairy tale, the recounting of nightmares that have been folded into stars and cast away.

“…it tastes older than stories. It tastes like myth.”

The reader looking for explanations and reasoning will not find it here, this is a story of layered metaphor, a story that disregards many conventions of world building and the fantasy genre in general. The world is composed of symbols, the logic is the fever dream logic of Alice, lost in Wonderland; it is new myth, new legend, a story with it’s roots firmly entangled in America. Zachary is the child of an immigrant, gay, and is going to college to work as a game designer. But from this very timely and modern world he tumbles and falls into something so much more then a grey, cold, east coast winter.

He falls into a world where the sea is made from honey, where white stags wonder the woods, where the moon fell in love, and Time is waiting, always waiting, again and again, for the return of Fate.

“But the world is strange and endings are not truly endings no matter how the stars might wish it so.”

I’ll admit; at first it was frustrating being taken out of Zachary’s story to read a series of seemingly unconnected tales. It takes time for the pieces to begin to fall into place, and even then, we are seeing it through the lens of fable and metaphor, so things will never be crystal clear or explained with any sort of logic, fanciful or otherwise. The Stag, the Owl King, the Moon, the Explorer, and a host of other characters spin in and out of Zachary’s story, drawing the threads of it together to create a tapestry rich with wonder and imagination.

Morgenstern excels in creating breathtaking settings, in using lush prose to bring to life worlds you never want to leave. Be it a circus that arrive only at night, or a harbor city filled with stories, beside a starless sea. The world drips with honey and gold, glows with flickering flame, shines like crystal. From the glittering ballroom of Algonquin Hotel (which I was pleased to discover, does have a cat), to the crypts of people bound with strips of story, Zachary travels, creating a new story, and finishing another, far older then any that have come before.

“He has untangled himself from vines blossoming with story-filled flowers. He has traversed piles of abandoned teacups with text baked into their crackled glaze. He has walked through puddles of ink and left footprints that formed stories in his wake that he did not turn around to read.”

Final Conclusion: There are so many reasons to read this book; from Morgernstern’s inspired use of prose to her ability to weave together multiple archetypes. At times funny, at times sad, but always beautiful, it’s a world you’ll never want to leave. A new Narnia to search for, as every mysterious door you pass will whisper to you of the stories it may hide.

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