The Starless Sea – Erin Morgenstern

Title: The Starless Sea
Author: Erin Morgenstern
Genre: YA, Fantasy
Published: November 5th, 2019 (Doubleday Books)

Synopsis: 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.

Unpopular opinion time! Meet the cause of my month and a half long reading slump. I was thoroughly frustrated with this by the first 100 or so pages and with much effort, struggled through the rest since I really hate DNF’ing any book. Worse, after struggling through this 500 page book, I’m still rather confused as to what exactly this is about. This is the lowest rating I’ve ever given a book and probably also the harshest review, but after seeing quite a few great reviews, I find myself throughly disappointed with this as it became such a chore to finish.

It actually starts off quite interesting, when graduate student Zachary Ezra Rawlins finds a strange book in the library that seems to tell his story. This sets him off on an increasingly mysterious quest to find out where it came from and he descends into what seems to be a magical library of some sort in search of the Starless Sea.

The entire story is told in third person which is already annoying, but made even more so by the later frequent and random perspective switches, and by the time a storyline picks up again, I’d already forgotten what was happening. On top of that, the timeline is not linear and the story jumps between past, present and future which was very confusing. And so many questions – what is the purpose of the starless sea, and what was the meaning of all the bee, key and sword imagery? If it was trying to be mysterious, it failed – I guess there is such a thing as way too much fantasy.

I also found very little character development in this book and couldn’t really bring myself to care about even a single one of them. And this is a really minor point compared to the rest of this book, but is it just me or did the Zachary/Dorian romance make zero sense? They’ve barely even spoken more than a handful of sentences to each other and it didn’t feel genuine at all.

The story did start making a little more sense towards the end, but I had to get through more than 400 pages first. It remains infuriatingly vague however and still leaves the question I asked myself throughout this entire book unanswered – what exactly is the point of all this? And that’s not even taking into account the seeming lack of an actual plot (am I missing something here?). My first thought when things started getting crazy was Alice in Wonderland, but even that had an end goal.

All right, that’s it for my complaining, so let’s get to the few things I did like about this book. The writing was undoubtedly beautiful and it paints a very imaginative and magical world. When it comes to atmosphere and feel, this book does it very well. It was really fascinating to come across a world which is basically one continuous story. To be honest, I enjoyed the various short stories more than the actual main story itself. It was nice to see them begin to connect and weave into the main story as the book progressed. I get the feeling The Starless Sea is meant to be more about storytelling and less a story itself.

Overall, I think it’s pretty obvious from the above rant that this book was not for me, and after the amazing early reviews I saw for this book and the great feedback for The Night Circus, I’m very disappointed with it. But as it has received its share of praise and many others seem to view it differently, evidenced by the many 4 and 5 star ratings on Goodreads, this might be for you.

Have you read this book? What did you think of it? Let me know in the comments below!

4 thoughts on “The Starless Sea – Erin Morgenstern

  1. Alynn98 January 9, 2020 / 12:45 pm

    I totally understand your opinions about this book! I did enjoy it, but I mostly listened to the audiobook which helped me get through the slow parts- and the narrator changed which helped me keep up with the changing POV. I’m sorry you didn’t like the book, but thank you for your honest review!

    Liked by 1 person

    • journeyintofantasy January 11, 2020 / 3:22 pm

      Thanks for reading! Yes, I can see how the audiobook might be better suited for this type of book. If I reread this at some point, I’ll be sure to try it out!


  2. Lindsey January 16, 2020 / 4:59 pm

    Oh no! I’m sorry this book didn’t work for you. I’ve seen it around a lot but not one that I’ve read myself but after reading this, I’m not sure I want to. It sounds like there are so many elements that just didn’t work. Great review!

    Liked by 1 person

    • journeyintofantasy January 18, 2020 / 4:29 pm

      Thanks! Yes, the meandering storytelling wasn’t really to my taste and it’s definitely not typical YA.

      Liked by 2 people

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