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The Starless Sea Review

The Starless Sea is Erin Morgenstern’s highly anticipated second novel. The story stars the young bookish/gamer Zachary whose life story takes a wild turn when he discovers a mysterious book in his college library.

The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern book cover

The main story line switches from following Zachary to excerpts from ancient, mysterious books. These side stories provide intrigue and mystery, especially early on in the book. The writing style is grand without being grandiose. There are lots of interesting symbols and metaphors, especially with keys, bees, and doors.

As the story develops, it becomes a bit repetitive. The scenes from the “other” world become a heavy mix of caverns, doors with symbols, stairs, etc. always with stacks and stacks of books throughout. There is also a great deal of time “misuse”. Not time travel but where time acts strangely in different places. This, while fascinating, is always difficult to place in a story. It muddies up anything that has happened or will happen and becomes confusing and far-fetched.

One of the biggest transitions of the plot, unfortunately, occurs from a Google image search. Later on, a mysterious woman who Zachary is traveling with stops at a Starbucks (yuk!) for a drink and information. Then there is a scene with a Barnes and Noble. Several times the story would hit these kinds of jarring bumps that could have easily been fixed. A lot of the video game references seem unnecessary and annoying, especially when Zachary starts doing “inventory management”.

Overall, the setting is the big victor in The Starless Sea. Even if the mystery world sometimes repeats, many times I felt like I was there exploring and discovering along with Zachary.

Zachary and Dorian could have used a bit more development, especially their relationship. They fall in love superficially and then seem desperate for each other; more of a movie style than a novel. Kat is a flat character but her diary is an interesting way to bring the story to a conclusion. All the characters are “woke” with sprinklings of quirkiness and spirituality. Not my style with the pagan, tarot-card reading, fortune telling, etc., but for the story it worked.

The Starless Sea nails lost college students real well. These older students are stuck in their lives, secure at school without a lot of drive to do anything beyond. The story happens to them rather than them seeking out their own story. It felt like fate and time were going to happen and everyone was only along for the ride.

This is how the whole plot went for me. The story is happening and will happen. Sure, the characters can choose one of the pre-selected doors or paths, but that is about it.

I found myself in the last third of the book racing to finish it. But I couldn’t fully decide if it was to find out what happened or because it was due at the library in a few days. Looking back, it was the latter.

I recommend reading Morgenstern’s first novel, The Night Circus. I enjoyed that one immensely, and I tried hard not to judge The Starless Sea based on my experience with that book.