The Starless SeaThe Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern
Published by Doubleday Books on November 5, 2019
Pages: 498
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Bantering Books Rating: five-stars

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.

Bantering Books Review

How I wish I could visit the Starless Sea.

I wish I had my own magical door; one that would allow entrance to the labyrinthine libraries of this magical underground world that Erin Morgenstern has created, where I could wander aimlessly for a time and be surrounded by books, secret rooms, riddles, and CATS. Lots and lots of cats.

It would be such a wonderful escape. And then once satiated, I could return to my beloved normal life and carry on . . . anxiously awaiting my next visit to the Starless Sea.

Oh, how I wish.

This wish of mine, fellow readers, is a testament to my love for this novel.

The Starless Sea is exquisite. It is literary perfection. I have not felt such a deeply personal connection to a novel in quite some time, and I am now saddled with this inexplicable urge to climb to the top of the highest mountain I can find and loudly declare to the world the depth of my love for this book.

Yes — I love it THAT much.

The Starless Sea is, quite simply, a book for book lovers. It’s a beautifully written ode to fairy tales that is unlike anything I have ever read. Within its pages, there are stories within stories within stories. There are pirates, owls, magical doorways, a keeper of keys, a sculptor of stories, Fate and Time, the sun and the moon . . . and video games, of all things . . .

( . . . and cats . . . don’t forget the cats . . . )

. . . and there is also Zachary Ezra Rawlins, who, over the course of the novel, you will come to know and to love as you follow him on his journey to the Starless Sea.

I will stop here and refrain from revealing any further details about the story. To do so, I think, would only serve to diminish the reading experience.

Before diving into the book, however, you should know that The Starless Sea requires patience. It is not a novel to be read quickly, as every sentence is important and laced with meaning. Morgenstern takes her time and slowly unfurls the plot to the reader, chapter by chapter . . . page by page.

And many readers struggle with the novel because of this. Very little of the story is revealed in the beginning, and Morganstern doesn’t communicate the end goal or the purpose of the story AT ALL. You don’t understand what Zachary is trying to accomplish in the Starless Sea, why he is on this journey, what he needs to do. It’s all a mystery. You are left in the dark. And I believe this is why so many readers are unable to enjoy the book.

But the mystery of the story is purposeful. It’s intentional. Morgenstern even tells us as much within the first 100 pages of the book. (Page 66, to be exact.) And for all of the gamers out there, this is where video games come into play —

“[Zachary] doesn’t always wish that real life were more like video games, but in certain situations it would be helpful. Go here. Talk to this person. Feel like you’re making progress even though you don’t know what it is you’re trying to do, exactly.”

Ding! Ding! Ding! Morgenstern wrote The Starless Sea to be read as one would play a video game –you read it, progress your way through it, and know that you will not have any idea of what Zachary is trying to accomplish. Understanding this is the key to unlocking the magic of the novel.

And I will admit — the story is confusing. It is so intricately plotted and so tightly written that it can feel overwhelming to mentally process it all.

Plus, in between every chapter of Zachary’s story is a separate, gorgeously written fairy tale, of sorts. And you’re reading all of these short little tales and wondering whether they are important and how it all fits together and — yeah, it’s a lot.


If you can sit back, lose yourself in the beauty of the words, not worry about what outcome you’re supposed to be reading towards, and have faith that it all will come together in the end (which it so masterfully does!), then I fully believe you will love The Starless Sea as much as I do.

If you are unable to do all of the above, however, then unfortunately, it will not be the book for you. And that breaks my heart.

Because The Starless Sea is a novel that should not be missed. It’s so, SO wonderful. It’s a fantastical masterpiece with seeping pages of magic — pages that are patiently awaiting their chance to whisk you away to another world.

A world that I plan to revisit again and again . . . as I now have a new, most favorite novel.