The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern

Posted December 9, 2019 by Amber in Reviews / 4 Comments

The Starless Sea

The Starless Sea

by Erin Morgenstern

Publisher: Harvill Secker on November 5, 2019
Genre: Fantasy, Magical Realism
Target Age Group: Adult
Rating: ★★★★★

Check out this book on Goodreads

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.


The Starless Sea was a book worth waiting for.

The beautiful worldbuilding made me fall in love with The Night Circus despite the slow pacing because it was a world I wanted to be pulled into, to exist within the book’s pages because it is a beautiful place, if somewhat tragic at times.  The Starless Sea has that same magical aesthetic. Even after having read it, I feel as though there are so many mor doors to open, so many more paths to walk.  It is ripe for a retread, because the Harbor is not a place that can be experienced in one visit.  It’s layered and complicated and I love love love it.

Zachary Ezra Rawlins is a likable enough character, his passion is subtle and confusion is sweet.  There’s not a lot of fire to the character, but that’s okay, because not all characters can be fiery and dangerous. Sometimes it is the quiet introverts who need an adventure, and they are uncommon protagonists in a book this sized so… I liked it.  I liked Zachary and I liked all the small details about him like that his default cocktail is a sidecar and that “It’s dangerous to go alone” from The Legend of Zelda pops in his head every time the next leg of his adventure is about to begin.

Erin Morgenstern’s characters are so bright and perfect that I was just disappointed I couldn’t learn more of all of them.  I want the pirate’s story, and more of Eleanor, and where has Simon been all these years? And more than everyone else combine, I wanted to follow Kat and learn the rest of her story, because it seemed to be just beginning.

I think that’s a lot of what I loved about The Starless Sea, and about The Night Circus too… they leave me bubbly and happy and wanting more.

Also? I absolutely adored all the pop culture and video game references.  I’m not a proper gamer, but I do indulge and I caught quite a few gaming references as well as various other pop culture references and they’re peppered in perfectly. Pop culture can accent a book, but shouldn’t be too garish or it will date the book.  I don’t think that will happen in this case.  I admire Erin Morgenstern’s craft – I really do.  She’s subtle and clever and every word feels so deliberate.  I’m in constant awe.

While it is not problematic for me, I do feel responsible to talk about the pacing.  The Starless Sea is very slow paced.  For those who delight in breathing in the characters and the setting and honey-dipped aesthetics, the pace is perfectly fine.  If you’re looking for something more along the lines of traditional rising action, peak, falling action, and tidy resolution… you won’t find it here.  Many things are interpretive and this novel delights in metaphor.  It is the type of book that is meant to be read slowly and enjoyed but if that isn’t your thing, I’m afraid that you will be a bit bored.

All in all I am so happy with this long awaited second novel from Erin Morgenstern and I am very much looking forward to digging back in someday and delving deeper into the world and analyzing the details and losing myself in her beautiful writing.   I respect that The Starless Sea will not work for everyone, but this book is very much my aesthetic and I through enjoyed the journey.


Ratings Breakdown

Setting: ★★★★★
Plot: ★★★★ 1/2
Characters: ★★★★★
Writing: ★★★★★
Pacing: ★★★★
Narrator: ★★★★★
Personal Enjoyment: ★★★★★
Overall: ★★★★★


The Starless Sea absolutely stays on my library shelf.

You will have to pry The Starless Sea out of my cold, dead hands.

I loved this book, and there is so many layers to it that I positively know a reread would uncover new details and stories and depths to the characters and I am absolutely on board for that adventure and so excited to dig back into this book in audiobook format and hardcopy.  I would go so far as to put this on my top ten list, so I will definitely be holding on to my hardcopy.


Do you have any books that have stayed with you and become a piece of who you are?  I can think of so may books that had an impact on me, from their sentiments to their storylines.  I’d love to hear about some of yours in the comments!

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4 responses to “The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern

  1. Hi! I found your site searching for something random (Hook / Peter Pan), and noticed the Starless Sea book in your header. 🙂 I don’t know if you’d be interested but I made a Bee, Key, Sword necklace to help people share in the magic. I know it sounds sales-y but I don’t make that much profit, I just love how excited everyone gets. I loved this book so much and cried when I finished it!! I included the link as my “Website” (or you can search my shop on Etsy, The Crown Arts). Hugs!

    • Amber

      Hi Laurel! So glad you stumbled across my page! I know how difficult it can be to run a small business. 🙂 Thank you for sharing.