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.

I give it 2.5 stars overall.
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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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2 thoughts on “Rapid Review of The Starless Sea”

  1. 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!

    1. 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! 🙂

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