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The Starless Sea

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Goodreads Choice Award
Nominee for Best Fantasy (2019)
From the New York Times bestselling author of The Night Circus, a timeless love story set in a secret underground world--a place of pirates, painters, lovers, liars, and ships that sail upon a starless sea.

Zachary Ezra Rawlins is a graduate student in Vermont when he discovers a mysterious book hidden in the stacks. As he turns the pages, entranced by tales of lovelorn prisoners, key collectors, and nameless acolytes, he reads something strange: a story from his own childhood. Bewildered by this inexplicable book and desperate to make sense of how his own life came to be recorded, Zachary uncovers a series of clues - a bee, a key, and a sword - that lead him to a masquerade party in New York, to a secret club, and through a doorway to an ancient library, hidden far below the surface of the earth.

What Zachary finds in this curious place is more than just a buried home for books and their guardians - it is a place of lost cities and seas, lovers who pass notes under doors and across time, and of stories whispered by the dead. Zachary learns of those who have sacrificed much to protect this realm, relinquishing their sight and their tongues to preserve this archive, and also those who are intent on its destruction.

Together with Mirabel, a fierce, pink-haired protector of the place, and Dorian, a handsome, barefoot man with shifting alliances, Zachary travels the twisting tunnels, darkened stairwells, crowded ballrooms, and sweetly-soaked shores of this magical world, discovering his purpose - in both the mysterious book and in his own life.

498 pages, Paperback

First published November 5, 2019

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About the author

Erin Morgenstern is the author of The Night Circus, a number-one national best seller that has been sold around the world and translated into thirty-seven languages. She has a degree in theater from Smith College and lives in Massachusetts.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 34,403 reviews
Profile Image for Lisa Lynch.
442 reviews241 followers
August 20, 2019
"How are you feeling?" Zachary asks.

"Like I am losing my mind, but in a slow, achingly beautiful sort of way." (p.288)

Funny, I felt the exact same way while reading this book.

So, Erin Morgenstern's The Starless Sea is the highly anticipated follow up to The Night Circus (which, I admit, I haven't read). I won an ARC of this book from my library's summer reading program and, after reading the synopsis, I could not wait to jump in.

I think that most people who read The Starless Sea will love it because it's a love letter to storytelling. If you like literature, there is a good chance you will enjoy this book.

I was sure I would enjoy it too. I mean, The Starless Sea seemed like it was written just for me. We have a protagonist who studies video games and reads a lot and is near-sighted. There are books and cats and keys and bees and so many stories...

But, sadly, I am here to say I was incredibly underwhelmed and disappointed by this book.

Here's why:

1) I had no idea what was going on for the majority of this book. I do not feel that this is due to my own ineptitude. But rather, I didn't know what was going on in this book because nothing was going on. People who love Morgenstern's writing and love works that pay homage to literature might overlook this. Unfortunately, I could not.

The Starless Sea starts with a fascinating inciting incident. This guy named Zachary finds an old book at his library that tells his story. On a quest to discover why this book tells his story, Zachary soon finds himself in this magical library/world with some magical people. What follows is a series of seemingly endless fish-out-of-water scenes as Zachary bumbles along, trying to make sense of this magical place.

But even when things started to "come together" in the last 100 pages or so, I still felt like I had no idea what was going on. I constantly asked "but what is the point?" while reading this book and never, even at the end, got a satisfactory answer.

The Starless Sea is almost a retelling of Alice in Wonderland... except that Alice had an end goal and didn't need to fall in love to get there.

But seriously. Imagine if Alice fell down the rabbit hole into Wonderland then never tried to get back home because she was too busy just looking around and fantasizing about the Mad Hatter. And there you have the "plot" of The Starless Sea.

2) There is no plot. I'm confounded by this book, and not because of the richly imaginative world it is set in. I'm confounded by the lack of any narrative structure. THIS BOOK IS A LOVE LETTER TO STORYTELLING THAT FORGOT TO HAVE THAT WHICH EVERY STORY NEEDS: A PLOT! The only thing propelling Zachary forward in this story is the story itself. His motivations are unclear and his actions are minimal at best.

Here is the closest thing we get to an explanation as to why Zachary didn't just go home from the start:

What are you doing? a voice in his head asks an he doesn't have a good answer for it. Doesn't know what or why or even where, exactly, because he forgot to check the street sign on the corner. He could keep walking, hail a cab, return to his hotel. But he wants his book back. And he wants to know what happens next. (p.87)

So Zachary goes down the rabbit hole just because he wants to see what happens next?? Ok fine I guess. I was on board with this for the first 100 pages. But then 200 pages roll around and then 300... And eventually I got 400 pages in and honestly considered throwing the book out the window. A purpose other than "to see what happens next" is NEVER revealed. The purpose of this story was to get to the end. I'm not kidding!

At one point, this conversation occurs:

"I remain here because it is my job, Mister Rawlins. My calling, my duty, my raison d'etre. Why are you here?"

Because a book said I was supposed to be, Zachary thinks. Because I'm worried about going back... Because I feel more alive down here than I did up there.

"I'm here to sail the Starless Sea and breathe the haunted air," he says. (p.234)

While this might sound beautiful, there is nothing behind it. Zachary is compelled forward in this story by destiny and curiosity and I hate to say it, but that just isn't enough. There needed to be something more to this book than beautiful descriptions of a magical world.

I kept waiting for something to happen. And things happened I guess, but they all seemed circumstantial and nonsensical. Zachary is the most passive protagonist I've ever come across. He kind of just wanders around marveling at the strangeness of the world he is in. Everything felt incredibly contrived and convenient. I can only suspend my disbelief for so long.

3) There was no antagonist or central conflict. Again, I'm utterly confounded. What publishers and editors read this book and agreed to print it?? Without a plot and without a conflict, what do we have?? Dreams. Fragments.

I know people have been waiting like 8 years for another book by Morgenstern, but come one. I'm struggling with calling this a book!

There is this "bad" lady named Allegra but she has like two scenes in the whole book and isn't really a threat. And as far as conflict goes, the biggest "problem" is that Zachary (and me as a reader) has no idea what is going on. He has nobody to defeat and nothing to overcome. So what is the point of his "journey"?? TO FALL IN LOVE?? GET TF OUT OF HERE!!

4) The main story is interrupted every other chapter and it drove me crazy. So this book alternates between Zachary's main quest line and these little flash-fiction-like stories. Later in the book, the main quest is broken up by perspective shifts. I get why all this stuff was there and I did appreciate it, but it was so overwhelming. It was very hard for me to keep everything straight in my head.

I thoroughly enjoyed some of the stories but, my god, there was just too much. Zachary's story was interesting in the beginning, but once I realized there was no plot and everything that happened was just a series of events, I began to lose interest. I would forget where I left off with Zachary, so it made it hard to want to continue reading. With 100 pages left out of this 500 page book, I honestly thought about not finishing it.

5) The characters are underdeveloped. Zachary Ezra Rawlins is kind of a blank slate. I get that readers are supposed to relate to him and even insert themselves into this story through him, but the guy is just kind of... dull. Mirabel, Dorian, The Keeper, Allegra... they were all dull. I didn't care about any of them. There was better characterization in some of the interrupting stories than there was in the main quest (notice I'm not using the word "plot" here because THERE WAS NO PLOT.)

The only character that kind of has a character arc is... well shit. None of them. None of these characters, despite journeying through this magical world, change. There is no personal growth or enlightenment. They don't even come across many challenges other than ignorance and bewilderment.

6) This book is bogged down by long, tedious descriptions of the setting. I have a confession. I was so sick and tired of this book that I began skipping the paragraphs that described the setting in the last 100 pages. And, you know what? It got incredibly more readable. I didn't realize it until then, but all of these overlong descriptions were basically purposeless. They were there to be aesthetic and to look cool.

I think this book would have benefited from having like 200 pages trimmed out of it. Get rid of all these endless descriptions and remove like half of the interrupting stories and perspective shifts. Add in some character development and a whole lot of plot... Then there might be something to work with. In all honesty, this book could have been amazing.

7) The romance is unbelievable and stupid. I didn't buy Zachary and Dorian's relationship for a second. They kind of saved each other's lives once or twice, but never had any time to develop a deep connection. They spent an evening drinking wine and reading together, (and by "reading together" I mean reading different books in the same room together) but had no other significant interactions. They never flirted or talked to each other more than a few sentences. Then all of a sudden Dorian grabs Zachary's head and whispers:

"I need you to know that what I feel for you is real. Because I think you feel the same. I have lost a lot of things and I don't want to lose this too." (p.312)

Uh, what??!? At this point in the book, I wasn't even sure that Dorian was gay and liked Zachary, let alone was in love with him. It is hinted at that Zachary and Dorian are meant to be together because of some prophetic nonsense, but my god. Throw some scenes of them getting to know each other so that I believe they are in love. This is also the sexiest moment between the two in the whole book and that's pretty sad.

8) This book feels like it needs to be read twice to fully understand and enjoy. I wholeheartedly resent this. It was hard enough for me to finish this book the first time. I will never read it again.

So, in order to be fair, I guess I should mention the good things about this book. Some of these "positives" are going to end up being backhanded compliments, but I'm over worrying about it. I DIDN'T LIKE THIS BOOK THAT MUCH, so I'm grasping at straws here.

1) The world in The Starless Sea is fascinating. I loved the aesthetics of it. This book is full to the brim with fantastic imagery. I loved that this world of stories was filled with keys, cats, books, and a boatload of mystery. It was such a goddamn shame that all this cool imagery was overused and purposeless.

If you can get past all the highfalutin metaphors, similes, and imagery, there is a very interesting, unique world made up of stories. How freaking cool to have a world that is basically a perpetual story? Like, the stories end, but one follows to take its place.

2) The writing is beautiful. Morgenstern's prose is very dreamlike and poetic. It is too bad what was written lacked an overall purpose, message, and plot. I think this book needed a heavier editing hand and maybe a bit more time in the oven. It is clearly undercooked.

I rated Erin Morgenstern's The Starless Sea 3 out of 5 stars.

**Update** So I've been thinking about this book for like a week or so and I'm dropping my rating to 2 stars. My frustration with this book really got to me. While finishing up the last 100 pages of The Starless Sea, I realized that I was incredibly grumpy. It was negatively impacting my life and I should have gone with my gut and thrown the damn thing out the window.

I ended up finishing this book, despite my urge to chuck it into the bushes, because I felt it was important for someone to be the voice of reason. I wanted to point out the flaws and problems. I have a feeling this book will end up being very highly rated here on Goodreads for 2 reasons:

1: This book panders to its audience by having a protagonist that is designed to appeal to readers. He is nerdy, near-sighted, part of a minority group, and he likes video games, books, and cats. This book also panders to its audience by referencing literary works.

2: The Starless Sea will ride the coattails of The Night Circus. People who loved TNC will love TSS.

I don't recommend this book.

**I read an ARC of this book, so quotes and page numbers might end up being changed in the final product.**
Profile Image for chai ♡.
321 reviews153k followers
August 18, 2022
It’s a profoundly strange thing, to feel as though you are wading through mildly entertaining books that pass through you without leaving any trace that it had ever been there, always searching for the one that will reach—not through you but—into the back alleys of your soul and settle there, lingering. And then all of a sudden, like a faint spark bobbing on a dark sea, calling you, beckoning... it is there.

The sheer joy of it is like what all the books you’ve ever read have been aspiring to be; the scales of what is good, great, and transcendent shifting and recalibrating in your head. The story that is a door creaking open in your chest, pouring light into that deep hollowness. A story like a sacred secret burning like a lantern in the center of you, something you could crawl into if only you believed in it hard enough.

To borrow some of Morgenstern’s words, “books are always better when read rather than explained.” Words fall short of this marvel, but I want you to read this book, so I have to try.

“For those who feel homesick for a place they’ve never been to. Those who seek even if they do not know what (or where) it is that they are seeking. Those who seek will find. Their doors have been waiting for them.”

A subterranean library where reality can be shuffled like a deck of cards—a drunken mangle of past and present. Stories that wander off the edge of the page, filled with teeth and armored with immortality. People who wander off the edge of the map,  perilously and fathomlessly free, the unnameable future ahead of them—endless reams of blank paper. And the secret society undoing it all, unwinding the Starless Sea thread by thread, until it falls away.

And in the center of it all: Zachary Ezra Rawlins.

This is Erin Morgernstern’s much-anticipated second novel. The basics, at least. The bones. But stories—as stories often do—grow in the telling:

Zachary Ezra Rawlins stumbles across an authorless book in the library, and in the deepest, most unshakable part of himself where reason was useless, he knows without a doubt that it is narrating a long-ago event of his childhood. Back when 11-year-old Zachary found a painted door, unknowingly teetering on the invisible edge of a great cliff, but held himself back from the seething, teeming sea below. The door (and the unspoken invitation) was gone the next day, like a wave washing clean over sand.

But here, in The Starless Sea, is a second chance, a do-over. The scattered uncertainties of Zack's childhood fall away, and in their stead is is the unwritten story, still swelling in its hollows, breathing tendrils of beautiful magic into the air. And something else too, something with the faintest hint of danger in it. Soon, dreams and nightmares start borrowing each other’s faces, and Zachary’s time is running out. If only he knew what for.

“I think people came here for the same reason we came here,” Dorian says. “In search of something. Even if we didn’t know what it was. Something more. Something to wonder at. Someplace to belong. We’re here to wander through other people’s stories, searching for our own.”

I loved this book, and have never been sadder to turn the last page. The Starless Sea is a love-letter to those of us dogged with the invisible burden of unbelonging, which too often stirs us from the stillness and sends us out into the page in search of solace. Those of us who carry stories like a secret talisman in our pockets, and rub words for comfort until they are worn smooth as creek stones. Those of us who once turned away from our own painted doors before we took courage and learned to feel the surge of fear and relish it.

Emerging after eight years—like a glittering literary cicada—with a remarkably powerful novel, Morgenstern holds our gaze for the space of a few hundred pages and fills it with what she wills. Having read The Night Circus and enjoyed it, I knew the author’s imagination is keener than almost anyone's. But in this novel, Morgenstern's pen seems to carry a deeper heart inside it, and a deeper warmth too. It's such a joy to read her writing, to linger on every line, to turn it over, to read and re-read passages so drenched with meaning, thundering with it. If you thought the scope of The Night Circus was wide, the plot Morgenstern engineers here is even more recklessly splendid. There are tales layered upon tales here, and characters who are freed to wander, leaving their books to taste life in other stories. One thing is familiar, though, and that's the impression of effortlessness Morgenstern is so good at, which bellies an immaculate precision and profound care for details.

I couldn't stop reading this book. As much as I really wanted to sit back and luxuriate over the Morgenstern's beautiful prose, I kept going, going, going, chasing after every sentence as if the words themselves were on horseback, racing after the riddles of Fate and Time, of pirates and tongueless acolytes, of weary travelers, and wearier lovers, of foretelling sculptors, and all-seeing Owls, before getting swept out by a rogue wave to the Starless Sea, and swimming against riptides, finally staggering ashore to a landscape I couldn’t begin to make sense of, yet which was still as familiar as the remembrance of a touch. Morgenstern makes you experience it all, and the result is a novel that inhales you as much as you inhale it.

But The Starless Sea is, above all, a love story. One that will pluck at every single one of your heartstrings. Zachary and Dorian’s love tale was sometimes as fierce as joy, and sometimes like a knife blade pressed to flesh. It's tender and unmistakable and dangerous and true. The kind that starts with a held gaze in a sea of indifferent stares, the two of you the only fixed points in a universe of motion. Shock, recognition, and a deep sense of familiarity. This person that is “a place you could lose yourself in, and never wish to be found,” this frenzied and fevered need to know one another. Morgenstern writes about it so touchingly, with just enough touch of tragedy to keep you glued to the pages, both dreading and longing for what's next.

In short, Morgenstern has a forever reader in me.

“And no story ever truly ends as long as it is told.”
Profile Image for emma.
1,825 reviews48.5k followers
September 29, 2022
Someone PLEASE procure me a striking, modern, big-city apartment with lots of windows, where I can hold a glass of expensive wine and gaze unseeing over the skyline at night, because apparently I’m going to feel melancholy for the rest of my life over never again being able to read this for the first time and if I’m going to do so I at least want to be glamorous about it.


Or, at the very least, I need to locate the sort of old-fashioned library described in 1920s mystery novels with a bar cart stocked with aged scotch and shelves filled with leather-bound tomes, except their antique spines will be a façade for the kinds of things I actually enjoy reading, rather than being 800 different copies of the Bible or whatever, and I will never drink the scotch because everything about the process of drinking scotch is like the scotch is asking you not to drink it. (Scotch is the poison-dart frog of beverages.)

Basically what I’m saying here is - Ever since I read the last page of this book three months ago, I have felt a small, unrelenting sadness, which I believe will only be solved by one of the following methods:
a) I dedicate my life to tracking down a door to the Starless Sea, and either I find one or it turns out the real reward was the friends I made along the way;
b) I experience repeated memory loss, allowing myself to read this book over and over again for the first time, re-beginning every time I finish it;
or c) I live the rest of my days in homage to this story.

All options will require funds that I will never have (I’m an English major, after all), so please kindly Venmo me at your convenience. Thanks.

This is the most gorgeous ode to stories and literature. It’s a thank-you gift to anyone who has ever been a Reader, with a capital R - not just someone who reads but someone WHO READS, as an identity, as a life-force, as a passion, as the meaning of life.

I dare any true bookworm to read this book with an open heart and a ready mind and not feel grateful that their life overlapped with its publication date.

Erin Morgenstern’s ability to create divine settings you can see and smell and lust after and yearn to experience is unparalleled.

My favorite book ever is, as anyone who has so much as made the online equivalent of eye contact me knows, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. I love it with enough passion that everything about it is my favorite of that thing: my favorite characters, my favorite prose, and, naturally, my favorite setting.

Before I read this book, my unrivaled first runner-up was the setting of the Night Circus.

Now, I think both Wonderland and the circus may have been bumped down a slot. Never has a setting known me, seen my soul, like that of the magical underground great world of stories in these pages.

Plus, I didn’t have to slog through a Night Circus-level instalove romance to get there.

This was a perfect book. Mysterious, confusing, strange, magical. Beautifully written and populated with characters you love hard and immediately. I read this so slowly because I SAVORED it. I, a compulsive speed-reader whose simultaneous highest compliment and M.O. is reading a book in a day or so, knew that my finishing this book would be a small heartbreak, and so I tried to postpone it as long as I could.

So instead, I’ll pay the highest compliment to this that any reader can pay to any story -

Bottom line: It was hard to pick up another book after reading this one.

rereading updates


all month long, i'll be rereading this fav as part of my book club with my lovely elle! follow on instagram here or join the discussion here.


Yes, I teared up upon finishing my reread of this book like a starlet in an old movie. No, I don't want to talk about it. I JUST WANT THIS TO NEVER END.

a lovely little reread with lily


i wanted this to never ever ever end ever.

the fact that it did is my biggest complaint.

review to come / 5 stars

currently reading updates

i hope someday i love something as much as erin morgenstern loves comma splices


me: i need to finish my reading challenge!!!

also me: (picks up 500-page book)

tbr review

wait.........MULTIPLE beautiful covers????

someone take mercy on me




hello i would like to read this now please. 2019 is not going to work for me thank you
Profile Image for Nilufer Ozmekik.
2,202 reviews40.8k followers
February 26, 2022
I waited the book for months and months, also named myself as Vladimir who is waiting for Godot forever! Of course my request stays at the NetGalley limbo space with other thousands of my requests doing boogie dance together. (I don’t want to visualize them dusted, positioned at the bookshelves kind of purgatory!) So as a patient reading, high five-d myself for releasing day (actually I slapped my nose, I couldn’t do a proper high five for years and always missing the other person’s hand or always find them on my face!!!!)

Reading this book is seeing a dream into dream into dream. I felt like jumped into full throttle triple time intensive Inception universe. (So I visualized most of the book’s characters as Leo and Tom which made my day and give me an amazing selfie smile all day long!) So you’re reading amazing story about intertwined magical stories. It’s a mind-bending brain storming process because narrator jumps between stories and your grey cells get used to run marathons to catch where the main story goes and gather the crumbles left for you like Hansel and Gretel.

But I have to admit at the final you find better place than a house made of sweets (Yes, I actually found my fountain of Chardonnay when I caught the simple rhythm of the stories. Let’ drink to that!) But I still feel the smoke coming out of my ears because this kind of brain gymnastic has side effect like over exhaustion and dismantle the rest of remaining brain cells. Luckily I know the feeling because I read too many Blake Crouch books that make me prepare this kind of mind-blowing experience. I like challenges! Bring it on!

I also have to admit Morgenstern is a magician. She can bend words, add different meanings, put a lyrical touch to enchant you. Just like Night Circus, the same thing happened to me. I hear a wonderful symphony in my head and waltz in my room, remembering those intriguing, magical stories you want to keep reading. Even the book is too long, you don’t want to stop flipping pages and get lost in those creatively depicted universes and of course you never get bored and enjoy each second of your experience.
Did I like it? NOOOOOO!!! I LOVEEEEDDDD IT SOOOO MUCCCHHH( I’m screaming right now but thankfully you can only sense my excitement from the big caps and wrong grammar usage :) )

And don’t forget to enjoy every words about heartwarming, tempting love tale of Zachary and Dorian. It’s not about modern love it is about to find the person reminds you a place you could lose yourself in and never wish to be found. DEEP SIGH. Yes. I truly love it. Period!

Profile Image for Sean Barrs .
1,113 reviews44.4k followers
May 10, 2020
This is a review I did not want to write because this is a book I so desperately wanted to love.

The Starless Sea is a book written for true readers. I’m talking about the kind of person who spent their childhood in and out of libraries and bookshops; the kind of person who sits and imagines adventure and an escape from the mundaneness of every single endless day without magic: the kind of person who lives for books and reading.

As such it is totally enchanting to begin with it. It hooks you in and will promise you storytelling delights, but these promises are false and lead to absolutely nothing but disappointment because the story will lose itself and collapse inward: it will fail in a spectacularly miserable fashion. And it is tragic because this book has been an exceptionally long time in the making. It needed a better editor to polish this lump of rock into the diamond it ought to have been.

So, do I think The Starless Sea could have been a good book?

Absolutely. What it needed was time, refinement, and a great deal of editing. The prose is written superbly; however, the structure of the book is a complete narrative mess that goes nowhere and becomes terribly confusing as it collapses on itself and forgets the very purpose of storytelling: to tell a story, not simply beguile with pretty words and cool fantasy elements. There needs to be a purpose.

I make no reservation in claiming that this book could have been as effective as Gaiman’s masterpiece The Ocean at the End of the Lane. It seriously had that much potential, but it was wasted. And I'm angry, bitter and frustrated because I do not want to write these words. I want to celebrate what this book could have been, not lament what it was not.

I suppose two stars will have to do for this brilliantly enchanting book that wasted everything it had and failed to deliver what it promised.


You can connect with me on social media via My Linktree.
Profile Image for jessica.
2,535 reviews32.6k followers
November 5, 2019

i know for a fact that this book wont be everyones cup of tea (morgensterns writing style is an acquired taste), but it sure is mine.

this quenches my thirst for a story that was meant to be told, a love letter to the art of storytelling, as well as the stories we find ourselves in. it is an ode to those who write their own paths in life. and there is an aromatic intimacy to this that can only be created when such words are so tenderly placed on a page.

with delicious notes of myth and legend, imagination and wonder, this supplies the perfect blend of magic, bravery, adventure, wisdom, and love. it is a full-bodied flavour that impacts the palate, leaving it satiated, yet somehow desiring more.

this is a story to be savoured from one page to the next, entincing the reader to acknowledge all the smooth layers and undertones, because each word has such a meaningful presence, it would be a shame to miss something.

and as i drink up every last letter, i become so delightfully intoxicated on the notion that we are all made of stories and stardust. its a buzzed feeling that reminds me exactly why i fell in love with reading in the first place and how we all become a part of the stories we love.

🐝 🗝 🗡

every star to return to the starless sea
Profile Image for Alienor.
Author 1 book87 followers
June 26, 2020
I am SO disappointed.

Bee. Sword. Story. Door. Doorknob.
Someone doing something somewhere but loses someone.
Owls. Honey. Sea. Bees.
Swords. Cats. Stories. Fragments.
Smart literary references haha.
Bees. Swords.
The moon.
Clueless boring gay character gets lost, does nothing, stumbles, regrets everything, has no spine. Insta-love - why? He took my hand then lost it.
Sea. Trinkets. Books, ribbons, lost, what, maim someone randomly.
Hate for no reason. Kitchen. What? Swords. The fortune teller’s son. The fortune teller��s son. The fortune teller’s son.
People being waaayyyy
talking about recursive storytelling in live theatre vs video games.
Such self-consciousness.
Doors. Who? Cats? Where? Meaningless pretty endless meandering sentences. Stags. Moon. Books. Lost again.
Doors. Doors the fortune teller’s son. Immaturity. Keys. Keeeeyyyyssss.
Keys keys keyskeyskeys. Doorknobs. Also, mutilations. Getting lost. Snow. Confusion. Stories. Lost. What?
Olden times. References. Books. Stars. Flashbacks, flash forwards.
Fragments. Cursed love.

I got to 85% before giving up. It made me want to peel the skin off my face.
Profile Image for Katie.dorny.
980 reviews500 followers
March 13, 2020
I did not enjoy this at all. Pretentious, confusing and jumping through time to make no sense whatsoever..I feel like I wasted a reading week. All my anticipated releases have been flops this year.

Now what is this book about? Honestly your guess is as good as mine. There was a hint of some love stories but they were so muddled into everything else that was pointless and made no sense so who knows.

The plot got lost, the writing style was so saturated in metaphors and description I got bored and there was a million tangents that didn’t add anything to the story except make you forget the story.

Our main characters had potential but that soon faded with the character arcs they were given. There are lgbt characters but even that can’t convince me to like this book.

And that ending? That is some open ended bullshit for a pointless sequel if this one sells well and you cannot convince me otherwise, so unnecessary.

Arc received in exchange for review.
Profile Image for Emily (Books with Emily Fox).
531 reviews58.6k followers
December 4, 2021
After trying to describe my issues with this book, I have found the best comparison.

There's a video of a raccoon putting cotton candy in water and staring at it as it dissolves... yup, that exactly how I felt. The writing is beautiful but I'm left empty handed and dissatisfied. I'm left wondering if I read the same book as everyone else and, quite frankly, feeling like I'm dumb because I don't get it.

The premise sounded interesting but I was quickly lost and bored. By the end, I was so ready for it to be over.

Not for me.
Profile Image for Samantha.
417 reviews16.7k followers
June 17, 2019
This book is a love letter to stories and storytelling, myths and fables, symbols and imagination. This was haunting and magical, foreboding and whimsical in a way only Erin Morgenstern can achieve. This is a story in which something new can be discovered every time you read it. Breathtaking.
Profile Image for Emily (Books with Emily Fox).
531 reviews58.6k followers
November 13, 2020
Read this as part of my "Giving authors a second/last chance" challenge and...

This is a tough one for me.

I can acknowledge that Morgenstern’s writing is whimsical but after two books by her leaving me confused and unsatisfied, I have to admit her books are simply not for me.

The worlds she creates are fascinating but I don't find myself caring enough about the story in them nor the characters. Frankly, I felt bored.

If you've enjoyed The Night Circus, you'll most likely enjoy this one too. If you didn't, I would skip it!
Profile Image for ELLIAS (elliasreads).
477 reviews38.2k followers
December 18, 2020
Finishes book.

"I'm getting this book tattooed all over my body, mind and soul."

2019 really saved the best for last. 8 years was fucking worth it.




a bee,
a key,
and a sword.

"I thought I was writing a book about books, but as it turns out I was writing a book about stories."

No words. Nothing. I just—
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Profile Image for Justin (Look Alive Books).
278 reviews2,260 followers
December 30, 2019
When I started reading The Starless Sea, I was blown away. I read through stories of pirates and girls in forests, of key holders and sword sellers, Fate, Time, the Moon, and some dude named Zach. The stories were intoxicating, like I was floating around in some hypnotic, dream-like daze, breathing in all of these beautiful short stories. They were beautifully written, imaginative little pieces of art, all smushed together and delicately held in place.

But somewhere in my drunken haze, the magic started to slowly melt away. It felt kind of like when the cops show up to your college party or when you visit Chuck E. Cheese as an adult. The fun and games just kind of disappeared all of a sudden, and it ultimately became more of a chore to finish rather than a magic carpet ride, or a trip to a Wonderland, or... whatever.

In my humble opinion, the overarching storyline of Zachary Evans Whoever that anchors this whole thing just was not very good compared to the short stories surrounding it. I loved the short stories and watching them suddenly start to connect or weave into the larger one, but when I started losing interest in Zachary’s story, I also started caring less about the other stories, too. Everything just started to unravel for me. There honestly wasn’t much of a plot underneath all the layers of stories, and the plot that was there became less and less interesting to me over time.

There was a lot of time dedicated to painting a scene. There were beautiful descriptions of places, but not enough time dedicated to the characters. I just didn’t feel invested in the story as a whole, and enjoyed the shorter fantasy tales much more. Maybe if this was a book of fairy tales it would have worked better for me. The writing is excellent, but the overall story just didn’t connect for me.
Profile Image for Amy Imogene Reads.
929 reviews802 followers
June 23, 2020
This is a masterpiece. This is flawless. This is the kind of book that comes along once in a decade. This cracks the foundations.

Imagery: ★★★★★
Concepts: ★★★★★
Writing: ★★★★★
Pacing: ★★★★

Erin Morgenstern is not for everyone. Her writing is for those who love the story for the sake of the story. The lyrical, meandering, and existential prose is not the standard format, and it takes no prisoners. If it's not for you, it's not for you.

Normally, I try to make some sort of sense in my review. Talk about the characters, the plot, the atmosphere. The Starless Sea is too close to my heart to describe accurately. (What more can I say about it than what it says about itself?)

It's about a subterranean library living labyrinthine space where the stories are often books, but not always.

Time and Fate are characters with an eternal love affair, but Fate was cursed to unravel over and over. Sometimes, Fate can put itself back together again. Time is always waiting.

Zachary Ezra Rawlins is the son of a fortune teller, and he discovers that his story has been fated since the moment he saw his door to the Starless Sea years ago. He didn't open the door then, but your story has a way of finding you even when you're not aware of its presence.

The Starless Sea is about metaphorical pirates, the Moon and her lover, Fate and Time, the power of the story, the cycle of beginnings and endings, owls, and bees. It has stories within stories, and perspectives that shift within the construct of time.

I loved it. I can't wait to read it again. As Morgenstern said in an interview, if The Night Circus embodied the concept of fall, The Starless Sea embodies the concept of winter. She says she's going to conceptualize spring for her next one...and I'm dying to read it.

Morgenstern, tell me a tale.

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Profile Image for emily .
241 reviews2,110 followers
December 31, 2020
Reading an Erin Morgenstern book is like dreaming with your eyes open. There's something so profoundly beautiful about The Starless Sea that I don't quite know how to put into words.

“Strange, isn’t it? To love a book. When the words on the pages become so precious that they feel like part of your own history because they are.”

This book tells the story of Zachary Ezra Rawlins (I mean, that's already the best name ever), who is an ordinary book nerd like you and I. One day, he stumbles upon a peculiar book, and as he reads on, he realizes that the story is about him. So, like any ordinary person who secretly craves an adventure to escape their bland, plain regular people life - he's up and away, going on a journey to find out what is the case with this mysterious discovery and determined to visit the Starless Sea, the place that his own story seems to lead him to.

Oh, how beautiful and heart-shattering it is, to love a book this deeply. Parting with it was an overly sorrowful experience. Even though I thought Erin Morgenstern did everything wonderfully, I ended the book sobbing like a teenage girl after their first heartbreak. Have you ever read words so beautiful they made you cry? Anyone who can do that, who can make you feel so devoutly just by giving you words on a paper, has become a master at their craft.

Yes, the story takes some time to unfold, and yes, it may be confusing - but the purpose of this book is to draw you in slowly and reward you for your patience at the very end. For when everything falls so satisfyingly into place. If you're looking for something that you're reading for the purpose of being entertained at all times - The Starless Sea may not be for you. Because its strong suits are the writing and the tenderly crafted characters. This book is supposed to be for Logophiles, for lovers of words. If you can't appreciate the book for its writing but base it on action alone - you might find yourself lost in the tangles of words and stories here.

descriptionincredible fanart by May, thank you for letting me use it ✨

This book will stay with me forever not only because I'm a reader but because I'm a dreamer, too. The Starless Sea feels like an ode to people like me. People that want to believe in magic and can't be satisfied with everything that is ordinary. People that are looking, desperately, for their own door they can escape through, every day. People that will never lose hope that their own adventure is still out there, waiting for them. People that secretly believe that they are meant for something greater, something special, something that is indisputably out there for you.

I will forever thank writers like Erin Morgenstern for making me feel like I belong. For creating characters I can find bits and pieces of myself in. For giving me a chance to escape my dull reality, at least for some time. For giving me the opportunity to go on adventures, though they may not fully be mine, until I can find my own one day. Thank you.

“Not all stories speak to all listeners, but all listeners can find a story that does, somewhere, sometime. In one form or another.”
Profile Image for NickReads.
461 reviews1,199 followers
Want to read
May 21, 2020
I always imagine Erin Morgenstern's books like paintings. She is that good at describing things.
Profile Image for Fares.
246 reviews315 followers
November 9, 2019
DNFed @ 56%

The writing is so abstract that I couldn't take it anymore! And the problem is I expected that, I wanted that, but it was just SO MUCH!
I'm so sad right now, I really wanted to love this 😭

I feel this was a cheap copy of The Shadow of the Wind, even The Ten Thousand Doors of January to me was similar and better than this.

I'm gonna crawl into a hole and cry myself to sleep now!
Profile Image for Charlotte May.
696 reviews1,074 followers
January 19, 2020
Am I confused as heck? Yes.

But was this book the most incredibly magical, moving, imaginative and absolutely immersive gem I’ve read in a long time? Also yes.

I enjoyed this so much more than The Night Circus!

"We are all stardust and stories."

Ok, where do I begin? I can honestly say I've never read anything like this book before.
Zachary Ezra Rawlings finds a book in the library that isn't catalogued and becomes curious. Once he begins reading 'Sweet Sorrows' he discovers a world beyond his wildest dreams - and the weirdest part? One of the chapters in the book is a part of Zachary's childhood - he is reading about himself.

"Do not be afraid; our fate cannot be taken from us; it is a gift."

Pretty soon Zachary becomes obsessed with this book and will do anything to discover more about how it was written, and what it means that he is in the story. I won't say too much because I think it's best to go in blind and be swept away with the magic of this book.

"Because I haven't figured out the puzzle yet even though I don't know what the puzzle is. Because I feel more alive down here than I ever did up there."

The world of the Starless Sea is filled with wonder and imagination, don't expect to understand everything because honestly some of it just went straight over my head. But what really tipped this for me was the wonderful short stories between each chapter. Stories about fate and time, the moon and the sun, the Owl King and Princesses, swordsmiths and pirates. Erin Morgenstern's imagination is unparalleled, I just can't give it 5 stars because I didn't fully understand some parts of the world.

"If all endings are beginnings, are all beginnings also endings?"

Just picked up this beauty from the library.
I didn’t love The Night Circus - too romancy for me, but I could appreciate its beautiful and imaginative elements.

I’m looking forward to this one 😊
Profile Image for Melissa ~ Bantering Books.
207 reviews787 followers
May 15, 2021
Be sure to visit Bantering Books to read all my latest reviews.

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

Bantering Books
Profile Image for Danielle.
808 reviews402 followers
June 9, 2020
I’m so sad to have not liked this book. I’ve read so many amazing reviews of it and had such high hopes. But alas, this was not my cup of tea. Swords. Bees. Books. Keys. Painted doors. Sea of honey. Owl king. Fate. The moon. Fortune Tellers. Cats. Is it an alternate reality? Is it the inside of a book? Is it the inside of a crazed mind? Is it magic? Is it aliens? I. Don’t. Know. 🤦🏼‍♀️ I held out hope all the way through that something would finally click for me... that I’d have a mind blown moment of ‘ahhh-haaaaa!!’ I get it and it’s fantastic! Unfortunately that just didn’t happen for me. 🤷🏼‍♀️ I honestly couldn’t wait for it to be over. It’s not the worst thing I’ve read. It has some spots but of intrigue. Overall I guess I lack the imagination to appreciate the sporadic whimsy this book offers.
October 4, 2022
A mandatory Warning- If you are a “The Starless Sea” enthusiast, immediately exit the review, as I can’t help but rant, to realign back my braincells:-/

Beleaguered and with insuperable reluctance, I take total responsibility of all the ranting, raving and griping below (while citing examples from the text!).

Erin Morgenstern, is a craftswoman of enamouring captivating words! But just catapulting a mountain of lurid words, with no solid rhyme-or-reason, is definitely not sufficient to redeem a book!

Pet-Peeves: -

This book is a quintessential of “Pettifogging". I had to extricate all the convoluted knots in my head, post the read!☹
It was the most tedious task, to be subjected to the trial and tribulations of finishing a bulky plot-less book!! No disrespect/hate for this work, as I am not the most read/ knowledgeable person, so I might have missed out on few points!

This review, is just to vent out the angst and frustration I was subjected to, so pardon me if I go overboard, I am disgruntled!!

It was the most inopportune moment when I was indentured to this book! I wish I could have pre-empted, the decision.
I hope if at that most unfortunate, plaintive moment, I could have buried the book somewhere, just never to be found again! ☹

It is a LGBT YA fantasy, with a guy named Zachary, stumbling upon a book “Sweet Sorrows” in a library. He discovers the third part of the book, citing his own story and is finally intrigued and sets onto a whimsical journey (just to torment me ludicrously)! I admire the LGBT part(I admire Zachary falling in love with Dorian!)
Upto 5 percent of the book, I was all fascinated, captivated, enticed, with the library, books, looking forward to the euphoria and alchemy, but post that, my brain was battered, abused and maltreated at regular intervals.
I kept questioning myself, why am I still reading it? Is it because of the striking cover, or because of the prolific reviews on GRs, or because I wanted to pick it up prior to Night Circus? I wonder, if I will ever be able to muster the courage, to pick up Night Circus, post this tedium! ☹
By the time I finished 25 percent, there was no story, and it stayed the same till the end! But because of the time and efforts already invested, I continued, which was my biggest mistake! I confess!

With no character development, it is the vaguest of the vague!

EM definitely, has read exuberantly, and the atmospheric setting is brilliant, but it keeps swaying sporadically from one prose to another, and I simply couldn’t register anything. Just like the sporadic short stories kept swaying without any implication!

Fantasy and whimsy, isn’t meant to leave one in angst, frustration or annoyance, but this left me utterly disappointed, disgruntled and fuming! Finally numb.

I could have read 2 other novels, instead of this persecution!

As a child, I would gather cut-outs of newspapers, magazines, to make a collage, and with a gleam in my eyes, admire at my creation!

I think, Erin Morgenstern, has had been collecting all her favourite quotes/prose on atmospheric settings, throughout, dumped all into one book, “The Starless Sea”, with overflowing nonsensical stories! If she would have worked on the storyline, then it would have been a sheer masterpiece!
I wouldn’t recite the storyline, as I don’t want to be inflicted with the pain of writing the convoluted, contrived, stories, without being able to connect them, as I couldn’t find any connection! ☹
Sheer Cerebral Attack, with random short stories, suspended in thin air, enough to make anyone lunatic, disgruntled, rant and rave, just like I am ranting!
Moreover, reading the 2nd half of the book was the most tormenting affair for me.
With every chapter ending, I was made to realise that it was a contrived whimsy, and I was hallucinating all the while! Seriously?? Sheer, time-wastage!!!
I was frazzled out with this frizzled out plot! Plot, sorry, there was no plot!
Every metaphor is a metaphor for everything else! It is a labyrinthine of words!
Sharing a few-
“Poetry,” Mirabel repeats. “The weather. It’s like a poem. Where each word is more than one thing at once and everything’s a metaphor. The meaning condensed into rhythm and sound and the spaces between sentences. It’s all intense and sharp, like the cold and the wind.”
“She sat next to me and told me that we were the people that the narrative would have followed out from the party if we were in a movie or a novel or something. We were where the story was, the story you could follow like a string, not all the overlapping party stories in the house, tangled up with too many dramas soaked in cheap alcohol and stuffed into not enough rooms.”
“A book is an interpretation,” she says. “You want a place to be like it was in the book but it’s not a place in a book it’s just words. The place in your imagination is where you want to go and that place is imaginary.”
“Can't make an egg without breaking a few metaphors.”

I couldn’t understand the idea/purpose/moral of the book! Period.
I tried to derive; what Erin Morgenstern would have tried to convey, from the below two citations-
In one of the conversations between Mirabel and Zachary: -
“He tells her about moving from place to place to place and never feeling like he ever belonged in any of them, how wherever he was he would almost always rather be someplace else, preferably somewhere fictional. He tells her how he worries that none of it means anything. That none of it is important. That who he is, or who he thinks he is, is just a collection of references to other people’s art and he is so focused on story and meaning and structure that he wants his world to have all of it neatly laid out and it never, ever does and he fears it never will”
Is it about finding own standing in the universe? I applaud the fact of Zachary finding a mate/boyfriend for himself? But is EM, trying to emphasize that one needs to find a human, to find own standing in the world? That’s ludicrous.

Next, towards the end of the novel, sharing an excerpt from Kat’s secret diary: -
“I remember wondering if this story was an analogy about people who stay in places or relationships or whatever situations longer than they should because they’re afraid of letting go or moving on or the unknown, or how people hold on to things because they miss what the thing was even if that isn’t what that same thing is now.”
EM had to explain the purpose of the book using Kat’s secret diary, instead of working on the actual storyline.

What did Zachary let go or release? I couldn’t find anything he released or executed on his own throughout the book!

Without any further belabouring-

With a jaded spirit, I give 1.5 stars, for the underground library establishment with books. Books, which made me euphoric initially! And yes, the atmospheric-building is laden with prose (but it is just too much, profuse and lurid!)

I totally get when EM, mentions about the readers interpreting each book, her/his own way! But there got to be a dialogue established between the author and the reader. There got to be some storyline or moral, worth to be deciphered. It is highly unfair, just to write a detached jargon of lurid words, and leave it to the readers to interpret their own way, and call it a book/story! ☹

I am jaded and faded! Totally wearied out, forlorn!
I am listening to “Faded” by Alan Walker! ☹
So, lost!!
Profile Image for Virginia Ronan ♥ Herondale ♥.
532 reviews34.5k followers
January 2, 2021
”Far beneath the surface of the earth, hidden from the sun and the moon, upon the shores of the Starless Sea, there is a labyrinthine collection of tunnels and rooms filled with stories.”

There are stories that leave you with thousands of questions,
that cause you to topple under the sheer weight of their words.
And then there are stories that leave you with a million questions more,
but each and every single one of them feels like a soft caress.
Like a tender kiss on your longing skin. Like a shiver running through your craving mind.
You don’t want answers to those questions.
You just want to experience what they will do to you.
Which kind of emotions they will evoke, which sort of feelings they’ll drag to the surface.
You want to lose yourself in the story, dive deeper, be a part of it, touch it with your own fingertips...
Never let it go.

“The Starless Sea” is exactly this kind of story and it was an extraordinary pleasure to read it!

”A boy at the beginning of a story has no way of knowing that the story has begun.”

The boy at the beginning of this particular story is Zachary Ezra Rawlins and he’s as relatable as a reader can be. He’s a student, has a TBR he’s trying to reduce, is more comfortable reading a book than being out with his friends and was sorted into Ravenclaw. And one day he meets a mysterious storyteller who draws him into a world of wonder and mystery. Into the world of the Starless Sea.

”You are here because you wish to sail the Starless Sea and breathe the haunted air.”

The mere idea of the Starless Sea was already so intriguing and I loved to explore the Harbour. I mean some sort of labyrinthine underground library that looks like an art museum and seems to go on forever? Show me only one bookworm that wouldn’t enjoy a place like that! Also there were cats everywhere which was such a nice touch because I love all sorts of cats. Moreover there even were mysterious locked rooms and I’m such a sucker for them. I always want to know what’s behind those locked doors and my curiosity knows no boundaries. *lol* In short: I lived and breathed this story!

”You had superior meet-cutes with the others, no wonder you like them both better. You’ve cast me as a villain.”

And of course, like every story, “The Starless Sea” had a villain as well. Allegra was pretty intriguing and I think she was one of those antagonists that fascinate you. She has her principles and methods (for instance “late-night intimidation tea” – I love that term btw ;-P) and she’s convinced that her way is the only right one. It’s hard to dislike a villain like that and I found myself more and more captivated by her character and presence. Speaking of which: Dorian was such a wonderful and complex character as well.

”You’re not wearing shoes.”
“I hate shoes.”
“Hate is a strong emotion for footwear,” Zachary observes.
“Most of my emotions are strong,” Dorian responds and again Zachary doesn’t know how to reply and Dorian saves him from having to.

I just loved that boy! And the moment he got introduced into the story is definitely among my favourite bookish moments ever! It was mysterious, amazing, intriguing and shiver-inducing. Gosh how I wish I could have heard that story right from Dorian’s lips. I probably would have died. XD He sounds like a man I could easily fall for and he was described so vividly that I could imagine myself listening to his stories while taking in his appearance and gestures. He’s a character that seduces with his voice and words and up until now I didn’t even know that I’ve a weakness for men like that but apparently I do. As does Zachary. *lol* But to everyone who thinks this is going to be a love story: Be warned! This is one hell of a slow-burn and a very unconventional one at that. ;-) Also it’s not the focus of the story. This tale is more intricate and multi-layered than you might expect.

”It is there, still,” he says and pauses for so long that Zachary thinks perhaps the story has concluded but then he leans closer. “This is where the moon goes when she cannot be seen in the sky,” Dorian slowly breathes each word against Zachary’s lips.

I think I don’t want to go into more detail because this is definitely a story you’ve to experience for yourself. Just like “The Night Circus” it’s a tale I can’t describe. You just have to read it, feel it, get immersed in it. All those stories within stories, mesmerizing dreams turning into grotesque nightmares, little pieces that merge into one story and questions that might not always be answered. Succumb to the temptation and allow the narrative to drown you in the depths of the Starless Sea. If you give yourself to the story, I can guarantee the story will give you something back. ;-)



This book was so damn good! Like woah!! O_o
I know this is a story that’s not for everyone and yes, Erin Morgenstern's books are some sort of an acquired taste but boy, do they work for me! <3

I’m so mind blown I feel like I felt after watching the ending of “Inception”.

Full RTC once I figured out how to get all those feelings and thoughts into a single review. *lol*

It’s time to read another book of my Book List 2020!
I wanted to read “The Starless Sea” for ages and the fact this is written by Erin Morgenstern only made me even more curious. I absolutely loved and adored “The Night Circus” and I can’t wait to get lost in her beautiful words again.

Also if you know me, you know that I’m a sucker for masquerade parties, secret clubs and bookish labyrinths!
I’m sure this can’t get any better than it already is and all I want to do is to dive into this world! <333
Profile Image for Era ➴.
215 reviews526 followers
November 10, 2022
I had no idea what was happening for 90% of this book, but guess what? I did not give a fuck. I knew something was going to lead to something else, and I knew the story would have gorgeous lyrical writing, and I knew there would be a gay romance. That’s enough for me.

Honestly, I really considered putting this book off for a while because I had made no progress whatsoever. It took me about three weeks to read this book and it put me in a reading slump - hence the reason I took off one star, because I would have enjoyed everything else if I’d been able to genuinely read. But I still loved it, and I loved the experience.

“Strange, isn’t it? To love a book. When the words on the pages become so precious that they feel like part of your own history because they are.”

The writing of this book was so metaphorical, trippy and lyrical, and I fell in love. It was a little bit weird to get used to at first, because there were a lot of run-on sentences and different expressions, but once I did I could understand why it was written like that.

It was kind of weird to read descriptions that came across so strangely, but I honestly loved it. I thought the writing was beautiful and unique without sounding too contrived. It was almost poetic, without all the extra enter spaces.

“I’m agnostopagan.”
The Keeper cocks his head questioningly.
“Spiritual but not religious,” Zachary clarifies. He doesn’t say what he is thinking, which is that his church is held-breath story listening and late-night-concert ear-ringing rapture and perfect-boss fight-button pressing. That his religion is buried in the silence of freshly fallen snow, in a carefully crafted cocktail, in between the pages of a book somewhere after the beginning but before the ending.”

I feel like the way the writing fit so well with the story and the character’s thoughts was so perfect. If you’ve ever read The Night Circus, it’s a bit like that? But it’s less descriptive and more metaphorical, and it goes by its own standards. The Night Circus feels like it fits more traditionally compared to the writing of this book.

I did find it a little bit annoying at first. I loved it, don’t get me wrong, but it kind of grated on me to read commas where I anticipated periods, or a sentence that didn’t really follow the structure that I’m used to.

“Everything whispers the story here, the sea and the bees whisper and I listen and I try to find the shape of it all. Where it has been and where it is going. New stories wrap themselves around the old ones. The ancient stories that flames whisper to moths.”

I think that style was very fitting for the book, though.

There were a lot of parentheses and strange comparisons that make sense in a way that pretty much no one has thought of before, and I think that’s one of the reasons that everything in this book felt so connected. There were so many stories and connections and tie-overs that I just felt so disoriented, and everything seemed so disjointed, but you could tell that it was leading to what would really tie it all together. If I were to say it in a Starless Sea-esque way, it’s like this book showed me all the strings individually before being led to the knot that wove them together.

“He has brown eyes but his hair is blond, she has read so many books where blond hair goes with blue eyes that she finds it incongruous. His face is so much more than hair and eye color, she wonders why books do not describe the curves of noses or the length of eyelashes. She studies the shape of his lips. Perhaps a face is too complicated to capture in words.”

The storyline threw me off a little bit, since I wasn’t sure what was happening. I could tell it was leading up to something, since there were so many bits interspersed in, but I wasn’t entirely sure what the book was about.

This book begins with our main character, Zachary Ezra Rawlins, finding a strange unmarked book in the library. As he reads, he finds a story in it that he knows - because it’s a scene from his childhood. This takes him on a long journey, uncovers a few secrets that probably shouldn’t have existed in the first place, and brings him to meet a few people.

“Is this all in my head?” Zachary asks as they twirl amongst the golden crowd. “Am I making all of this up?”
“If you were, whatever answer I gave you would also be made up, wouldn’t it?” Mirabel answers.”

The plot blends from Zachary’s perspective through the stories of Sweet Sorrows, the book he found. The fables and stories being interwoven with the basic storyline gradually became more complex as other stories came up and characters were brought in.

I have to be honest, the plot was pretty slow. It took me a lot of time to get through forty percent of the book, and when I got there I needed to go through all the rave reviews of this book to motivate myself further. I know I’ve advocated for The Night Circus to a lot of people, but now I see their side of it. It’s a lot less enjoyable.

“It shouldn’t be too long to walk,” Mirabel says. “Sorry it’s so poetry today.”
what?” Zachary asks, not certain he heard her correctly.
“Poetry,” Mirabel repeats. “The weather. It’s like a poem. Where each word is more than one thing at once and everything’s a metaphor. The meaning condensed into rhythm and sound and the spaces between sentences. It’s all intense and sharp, like the cold and the wind.”
“You could just say it’s cold out.”

The characters were all so unique. They were just completely their own creation. Or Erin Morgenstern’s creations.

Zachary Ezra Rawlins is always introduced by his full name whenever his perspective starts. He’s a college student in Vermont who likes RPGs and books, and his mother is a fortune-teller. He’s our main character. Zachary is very relatable in his awkwardness, and his perspective was so much fun to read. I loved that he was, in book terms, a dreamer.

His development was subtle and wasn’t really a change of character more than a slow nuance of who he was in the story. It was intriguing to be in his head and to find so much of a story in one character.

“He opens the door and steps through it. And so the son of the fortune-teller finds his way to the Starless Sea.”

Mirabel was a fun character. I liked how very casual and do-it-my-own way she was. She seemed like she literally did not give a fuck for half the book, which made her secrets very interesting. Also, I loved her pink hair.

“She sat next to me and told me that we were the people that the narrative would have followed out from the party if we were in a movie or a novel or something. We were where the story was, the story you could follow like a string, not all the overlapping party stories in the house, tangled up with too many dramas soaked in cheap alcohol and stuffed into not enough rooms.”

Dorian was beautiful. He was such a rich character and I loved his storytelling abilities. He drew me in and made me really want to know his secrets, because he was one of those very naturally mysterious people.

“This is where the moon goes when she cannot be seen in the sky,” Dorian slowly breathes each word against Zachary’s lips.”

Kat was a very interesting character who I expected would be minor and thrown in at the beginning, but then she came back into the narrative. I’m not complaining. She was fun and quirky (but not in a bad way, I mean she just legitimately had a fun personality) and she was willing to knit Hogwarts scarfs. I’m sold.

“Not all stories speak to all listeners, but all listeners can find a story that does, somewhere, sometime. In one form or another.”

The emotional depth to literally everything in this book, from the writing to the metaphors to the characters, was shocking. I never thought honey or fireplaces or a dollhouse would move me, especially not fictional honey/fireplaces/dollhouses, but somehow they did.

I was shook at how Erin Morgenstern made metaphors out of things that I didn’t even know worked as book objects, and then made me feel something for them. I love my library, but I didn’t ever think reading about a library would make me feel emotional.

“The bulb breaks with a soft cracking noise and takes the light with it, leaving Zachary alone in the dark with the charred remains of a miniature universe.”

This book is about stories. It’s really not about Zachary, or his life, or the underground realm he finds. It’s not about his love of video games and Dorian. It’s about storytelling. It’s about how characters and their choices can change the path of a story, how narratives can be altered by one moment, and how entire universes can exist in our minds just because of the words on the page.

“You knew that would happen,” he says. “You made all of this happen.”
“I did not. I gave you doors. You chose whether or not you opened them. I don’t write the story, I only nudge it in different directions.”

The fables blew me away. I thought writing a book was hard enough, but somehow Erin Morgenstern created a collection of fairy tales and added them into this book as part of another book? The Owl King, the three swords, and the innkeeper felt like they were real tales, not just invented for this book.

“I have never met a girl who wears trousers before,” he says, hoping she does not take offense.
“I can’t climb things in a dress,” Eleanor explains, as though stating a simple fact.
“Climbing is not for girls.”
“Anything is for girls.”

Sweet Sorrow, Fortunes and Fables, The Ballad of Simon and Eleanor, and The Owl King were all books within this book, and they blew me away. This was literally five books in one.

He wonders if he has stumbled upon a place where girls do not play games, where there are not unspoken rules to follow. No expectations. No chaperones. He wonders if his mother was like that. Wonders what makes a woman a witch.”

The romance was perfectly gay (that’s a good thing). It progressed very slowly and subtly, but enough that you could tell something was happening. There was also no love triangle (YES).

“It is easier to be in love in a room with closed doors. To have the whole world in one room. One person. The universe condensed and intensified and burning, bright and alive and electric.”

The one complaint that I had was that it went very slowly. It was nice that the romance wasn’t the center of the book and that everything was plot-focused, but it felt like there was a lot of time between each romantic moment. That made it a lot easier to forget about and kind of took away from the process of really shipping those two.

“Something changes in the laughter, something is lost and something else is found and though Zachary does not have words for what has happened, there is an ease between them that wasn’t there before.”

That being said, the romance was very sweet, even though I feel like it didn’t get enough of a chance to develop properly. The chemistry, although it took a while to get there, was done really well and I couldn’t help loving the dynamic between these two.

“I need you to know that what I feel for you is real. Because I think you feel the same. I have lost a lot of things and I don’t want to lose this, too.”

I think the worst part about the romance (although like I said, it was executed pretty well) was that these two didn’t know each other very well. They met, then got separated, then didn’t really spend a lot of time together before love started up. I feel like they didn’t get to understand each other (aside from their nearly-automatic connection that kind of bothered me but was also pretty nice).

“There is a warmness to the brown of Dorian’s eyes that he had not been able to see before. There is a scar above his left eyebrow. There are so many pieces to a person. So many small stories and so few opportunities to read them. I would like to look at you seems like such an awkward request.”

Other than that, the romance was beautiful and I loved the dynamic that developed between Zachary and Dorian. Their relationship at the end was just...so worth it.

“If…if anything happens—”
“Don’t you dare,” Dorian interrupts him. “Don’t you dare make this goodbye. I am going to find you. We are going to find each other and we are going to figure this out together. You may be by yourself but you are not alone.”
It’s dangerous to go alone,” Zachary says, almost automatically.”

I loved how this book addressed escapism. It validates everyone who prefers books or games or movies to the real world, and gives you a portal to a realm where that’s normal and appreciated. It validates feeling like you belong to a fictional world instead of the real one.

“These doors will sing. Silent siren songs for those who seek what lies behind them.
For those who feel homesick for a place they’ve never been to.
Those who seek even if they do not know what (or where) it is that they are seeking.
Those who seek will find.
Their doors have been waiting for them.”

The Starless Sea is a whole realm of stories. This book is a whole world made just for all of us readers and nerds. I love it. I love how it combined an entire journey of self-discovery with a library and fairy tales and a few strange metaphors, and it was gorgeous.

“For a while I was looking for a person but I didn't find them and after that I was looking for myself. Now that I've found me I'm back to exploring, which is what I was doing in the first place before I was doing anything else and I think I was supposed to be exploring all along.”

“How are you feeling? Zachary asks.
“Like I’m losing my mind but in a slow, achingly beautiful sort of way.”

That’s the experience I had while reading this book. Everything was assembled so painstakingly and yet beautifully, and I couldn’t wrap my head around it for 90% of the time.

“Be brave,” she says. “Be bold. Be loud. Never change for anyone but yourself. Any soul worth their star-stuff will take the whole package as is and however it grows. Don’t waste your time on anyone who doesn’t believe you when you tell them how you feel.”

Overall, this read was worth the long experience and consequent reading slump. It’s not really for everyone, because of its unique style, but I think it’s better-received than The Night Circus. Still, I really liked it and would have rated it five stars if it hadn’t been as slow. That was part of the journey, though - the long, controlled build of the story. It’s drawn out, but exciting.

“But the world is strange and endings are not truly endings no matter how the stars might wish it so.”

Profile Image for elena ❀.
259 reviews2,876 followers
May 19, 2021
“Which way is the Starless Sea?”

I envy everyone who enjoyed the journey to the Starless Sea, because I sure didn’t.

I'm still debating whether I want to rate this 1 or 2 stars. I didn't hate it, but I didn't enjoy most of it.

The Starless Sea follows Zachary Ezra Rawlins as he finds a mysterious book in his school's library. What frightens him the most is how the book features him in it, and Zach slowly becomes a part of the mystery surrounding the book he picked up, thrown into an enchanting world of mysteries and magical creatures, time and fate, and truths about his own self.

I honestly feel like there isn't much to say to describe what this book is about because it's really just that.

My good friend Melissa told me to read this as if it were a video game, and I gotta say, I'm glad she did. Video games, specifically the action kind, take time to build up, tension rises throughout the game, and the plot is plodding because you're unsure where it's gonna go. And I think that's how The Starless Sea felt. If I had read this with the perspective of reading any other kind of book, I feel like I would have disliked it even more.

I found myself both enjoying this but also feeling agitated as I kept going. It wasn't really so much at the book's slow pace and how long it felt, but at how underwhelming it was. I was enjoying the first part of this. I wanted to read this as quickly as possible because of that, but then I realized how it would be better if I took my time reading it, reading a couple of pages here and there instead. I'd like to say it made the reading experience better, but I feel like it wouldn't have mattered in the end, and I would have probably felt the same way.

I thought taking it slow was a better approach because of how slow the book is and because I felt like I could have missed something important if I read quickly or skimmed. However, that is exactly what I found myself doing. I became impatient and bored, and it happened quicker than I thought it would. It took me more than a month for read this. Part of it was because I was taking it slow, another part of it was because I was dreading it and didn't want to read anymore.

“We are all stardust and stories.”

Some say this book has no plot, and I'd have to both agree and disagree. The plot here is really how Zachary finds himself in this magical and mysterious world as he tries to uncover the truth about the book he found at the library, the mysterious Starless Sea, Dorian, himself, his mother, and many others. There are obstacles in his way, such as Time and Fate, a villain trying to change what destiny calls for, a ginger cat, secret passageways, and more. I do, though, think reading this and taking it with a different approach can give the impression that it doesn't have a plot, but then again, I read this as a video game, and video games take time. With that being said, I have to say that many may find the plot non-existent or overall underwhelming because nothing else happens in this book. There is really no conflict to make the story more entertaining, other than Zach trying to figure everything out, which was figuring out the way to the Starless Sea. But other than that? Nothing.

You don't know where you're going with The Starless Sea, and I think that's what makes the mystery of it all the better. Yet again, I won't deny that I became bored after 150 pages or so. I complained about this already, but I grew annoyed every time Zach's chapters started with "Zachary Ezra Williams." I've never become so infuriated with a line before until now. I can still hear myself reading it.

The relationship between Dorian and Zach has got to be one of the most laughable and underdeveloped relationships I have ever read about. The blurb fooled me into thinking Zach would find himself discovering the Starless Sea with Dorian, but I was completely wrong. Dorian started getting his chapters more towards the end, and when he was mentioned in the chapters with Zach, he was always disappearing. The tension, angst, and overall connection between the two were entirely non-existent. I had to rub my eyes to make sure I was reading this line correctly: “I need you to know that what I feel for you is real. Because I think you feel the same. I have lost a lot of things and I don’t want to lose this, too.”

I'm confused.

It feels ridiculous, really.

This man disappeared from Zach more than once (for reasons I understand) and the two never even connected, and I'm expected to feel they had some sort of relationship? I knew there was LGBTQ+ representation in this, but I didn't even know it would be with Dorian if I'm honest. When I read about Dorian in the blurb, I thought Dorian would be some associate or someone who accompanied Zach. Not to mention that when Zach and Dorian met, I thought of him as a much older person. Also, adding on to that, the representation in general just felt...absent.

And there was never even a hint that Dorian was gay? Or that he had feelings for Zach? Their relationship lacked in every aspect. There was never a moment where the two could even find time to get to know each other. I feel like Dorian knew Zach much more, but that's because of where Dorian came from and who he is. On the other hand, Zach was never even doing anything other than trying to figure out what the fuck he was supposed to do with the book he found.

“A story is like an egg, a universe contained in its chosen medium. The spark of something new and different but fully formed and fragile. In need of protection. You want to protect it, too, but there’s more to it than that. You want to be inside it, I can see it in your eyes. I used to seek out people like you, I am practiced at spotting the desire for it. You want to be in the story, not observing it from the outside. You want to be under its shell. The only way to do that is to break it. But if it breaks, it is gone.”

There's so much that happens in this book, yet so very little.

I found myself not caring about Morgenstern's fictional stories, which were added to undertand the book Zach found better, but they were only getting longer and longer. My patience was only getting lower and lower.

They describe The Starless Sea as a love story to storytelling, to literature. Zach is a video game lover who finds escapism in books. There's nothing better than reading books about books. However, the potential and excitement lacked. Going into this with minor expectations is best, simply because there is nothing you can expect from other books that you will get here: Character development? Tension? Conflict? Love? Build-up? None.

There is no emotion in this book. I think one's enjoyment of this will depend on how it's interpreted.

The best thing about this was definitely the writing. Erin Morgenstern writes beautifully. Her imagery and prose are vivid, but it only took me a short while to start comparing it to The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue, which I also didn't enjoy. It got to the point where it was too ridiculous for me to read because of the emotions I was expected to feel that I just didn't feel anything anymore.

I'm upset I didn't enjoy this. I've heard so much about Erin, especially about The Night Circus, which I plan on reading at some point. I had already heard mixed reviews about this, but considering I enjoyed the first 100 pages or so, I expected to continue liking where the story was going. Perhaps you will like the ride to the Starless Sea more than I did, but for me, it just felt repetitive, bland, and underdeveloped.

The path that leads to the end.
Profile Image for Matthew.
1,219 reviews8,832 followers
May 10, 2020
3 stars

Time for those who have read my reviews before to see a bit of deja vu. I have from time to time mentioned books that are artsy for the sake of moving along the story in a unique fashion and they are wonderful. But, on the other side, there are books that are artsy for the sake of being artsy. Books where the weird and fantastic plot points feel forced in order to make the book seem edgy and trendy. This is, of course, in the eye of the beholder, so you may not feel the same about this as I do from book to book. For me, The Starless Sea rode a fine line between the two the whole way.

At first, I really got into the fantasy world of this book. It was doing a wonderful job of building a magical connection between the real world and a world from books. It reminded me a bit of The Shadow of the Wind. In fact, I am pretty sure they referenced that book early on. (I say pretty sure because I am reading multiple books, so it could have been in one of those!). I thought the writing style was wonderful and remained so throughout.

However, as the story progressed, I started to lose the continuity of the storyline because it felt like it was trying to hard to be "fantastic". There were about 5 separate storylines that jumped around and the events in each just got stranger and stranger. Every so often there were a few moments that reoriented me to the actual progress, but the last half was mainly disorientation and some lack of interest. If it was not audio, I am not sure I would have finished.

Some may love this book a great deal and enjoy getting lost in the artsy twists and turns of the multiple storylines. But, if you have ever agreed with me before on books being artsy for the sake of being artsy, you may have the same experience I did.
Profile Image for darmera.
30 reviews227 followers
November 25, 2019
No rating yet, because I am still processing. I liked it, but I also didn't? Better review is coming. Those of you who have gotten around to it- what do you think?
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