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.
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