No spoilers in this rapid review of The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern. Overall, I was not a fan. I give it 2.5 stars. This is Morgenstern’s second novel, and The Night Circus, her debut, is my all-time favorite book. Sea was my most anticipated release of the year, yet I don’t think it suffered from my high expectations. It just didn’t work for me, and it hurts my heart to say this.
The Starless Sea is about books, stories, and libraries. It’s an ode to the people who love them. And it started out with promise. Zachary Ezra Rawlins finds a book with no author in his university library and begins digging into the mystery surrounding it. Who wrote it? Who is the mysterious donor who gave this book and others to various libraries? And why does it contain a very specific story from his childhood?
I started out intrigued by the mystery and marveling at how Ezra’s story unfolds. I enjoyed the interludes with fairy tales and fables sprinkled in. They seemed disconnected, but I knew they must have deeper meaning. I couldn’t wait to discover how it all came together as we plunged further into Ezra’s metaphorical rabbit hole. Yet the deeper I went, the crazier it got and the less meaning I gleaned.
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I tried to sort through the interweaving tales—Ezra’s, the fables, and the brief flashbacks/forwards—working to determine what was important and what exactly was going on. I held onto hope until the very end that a big reveal would tie it all together. This didn’t happen. The moments that perhaps should’ve had dramatic impact fell flat for me. A friend of mine (and fellow Morgenstern enthusiast) told me she felt like it was a poem she didn’t fully understand. Touché, Mary!
Sea is written in Morgenstern’s imaginative, gorgeous prose. Yet this time, it seemed she was trying a tad too hard, maybe working to recapture the magic she created in her debut. I’ve often said that if I had written The Night Circus, I would’ve said something along the lines of, “There you go, world. You’re welcome. I can’t top this masterpiece.” But I don’t want Morgenstern to stop writing! I’ll read her next book despite my disappointment in this one.
If you’re in the mood for an original story filled with beauty and magic from a New York Times bestseller, I suggest starting with The Night Circus. Please read it if you haven’t! And then pick up The Starless Sea if you fall in love with Morgenstern’s creativity and style. Maybe it will resonate with you far more than it did with me.
Let us know what you think about The Starless Sea in the comments! No spoilers on this page, please!
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6 thoughts on “Rapid Review of The Starless Sea”
I’m glad I wasn’t alone in thinking that this wasn’t as good a book as Night Circus. I have read so many admiring reviews but my overall impression was of a kernel of a good novel, overwritten and under edited. That’s always the danger with a famous author who has been desperate to write her second book.
The story reads like a game; pass picture, collect owl, turn right and oops! You’re outside again. There was a lot to like at the beginning but the end just seemed circular. And that’s lazy writing. Why bother when you don’t have to?
Probably my fault but this wasn’t my favourite read this week!
It’s interesting that you mentioned it sounds like a game, Sara. I read an interview with Morgenstern that said she discovered video games in her down time after The Night Circus. I’m sure her newly discovered love for games played a part in the plot for The Starless Sea. I also think “overwritten and under-edited” is an interesting sentiment. I hadn’t thought of the under-edited part, but I can definitely see where you’re coming from. If readers can’t fully understand the connections at the end of the story, then maybe a little more work was warranted to tie the plot together. Thank you for your comment! 🙂
It seemed very disjointed from the beginning, then I found myself super intrigued in the two middle quarters of the book as I started to put a few of the connections together. The last quarter was a complete let down and I was annoyed that the connections were not developed further and only confirmed what I had already put together. I felt that the characters were wandering around aimlessly and although I understand there characters were supposed to aimless the deeper they were in the underground world, I was hoping they would find their path and develop into a stronger character like Eleanor. There were so many stories told in the book that were left openended and I didn’t feel all the connections were completed. I half understand why authors want to leave something up to the imagination, but I feel this book shouldn’t be one of those… Just a few more full circles and this book would have lived up to expectations. I was disappointed that as the story sped up, it seemed to get get even more disjointed and the tidbits of information confused me more when they were the perfect opportunity to tie everything together. I guess it was a journey for me further into the depts of the Starless Sea, but I wanted to read about the journey not love the same confusion the characters were living.
I powered through this book allowing myself long periods of time to read a lot of pages which helped me put together the plot, however, normally I read short bits over a longer period of time and I don’t think I would have been able to finish this book in that type of reading fashion. I liked the book, I just was hoping for more.
This book seems to elicit strong emotions from readers. I posted this same review on Goodreads, and it’s had more activity than any review in recent memory. Maybe it’s because we all had high expectations after The Night Circus. Or maybe it’s because the book started with such promise and raised many interesting questions we wanted answers to. Maybe it’s a combination of both. I’m glad to hear someone else say they didn’t fell all the connections were completed. I couldn’t tie everything together in my mind; until I started hearing from other readers, I was afraid it was just me. I got tickets to see Erin Morgenstern on tour soon (yay!), and I’m going to be interested to hear what she has to say. I hope it’s enlightening! Thanks for your comment! 🙂
Sad to say that this is one of the few books of 2019 that was DNF. I also had high expectations of this book, after really enjoying The Night Circus. Maybe if I have more time, I will pick it up again.
It might be worth it to eventually finish The Starless Sea, but then I wasn’t really satisfied with the ending. I was hoping for more after loving The Night Circus so much!