The Starless Sea Review: Where Did it Go Wrong?

December 3, 2019 by Jeann @ Happy Indulgence | 2 stars, Books, Reviews

The Starless Sea Review: Where Did it Go Wrong?The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern
Published by Harvill Secker, Penguin Australia on November 5, 2019
Source: Publisher
Genres: Fantasy & Magic, Fiction, Fantasy
Amazon | Book Depository | Publisher | Angus & Robertson | Booktopia
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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.

As someone who enjoyed The Night Circus, with its enchanting imagery and whimsical storytelling, I was excited about The Starless Sea, particularly after reading the intriguing synopsis. It sounded completely magical as an ode to storytelling and the tales that are told, with a labyrinth filled with secrets.

Sadly, the reading experience didn’t quite match up with my expectations, and I really had to force myself to get through it. This is really the sort of book that would benefit from reading reviews prior to diving in, which would probably lead to a less frustrating reading experience overall.

It started off promising, as we learn about Zachary, a university student studying game theory discovering an intriguing book called Sweet Sorrows in his university library. I was completely intrigued and wanted to know about the mysteries behind the book, particularly the symbols featuring a bee, a key and a sword.

A messy, jarring experience

Zachary isn’t sure where he’s going even though his destination is set in his mind, or at least it had been when he’d left his room originally, how long ago was that? Story time has confused his sense of actual time.

Zachary’s adventure soon diverges into other tales that are mixed into the story – and over the course of the novel, passages from five other books will appear in the story. I soon found myself caring less about the main story arc, and more about the side characters that appeared, such as Simon and Eleanor. Characters and objects and even narratives within these stories would appear throughout the book, which I found to be confusing and messy. This is a book that requires a lot of patience – and whether you would appreciate this, depends on the type of story you are looking for.

A passive character that things happened to

Another reason why I struggled to get through The Starless Sea, was because I didn’t really care about the main character. While the surroundings were beautiful and the world-building of The Starless Sea was absolutely stunning, the same cannot be said for Zachary as a character. He was a passive character that things happened to over the course of the book, and I couldn’t even describe his personality to you even after finishing the book.

Vague, whimsical and descriptive

One does not simply disappear for moments and claim to be vanished for months on end.

If I was to describe The Starless Sea in three words, I would call it vague, whimsical and descriptive. It’s filled with metaphors and every single detail about its surroundings are provided. Reading this book requires a lot of patience, especially if you’re used to reading books that feature a strong plot from the get go. It takes a long, long time to get to the point of it all, especially with the amount of other stories that are intermingled with the main one.

Was it worth it in the end?

So why did I continue reading The Starless Sea, if I wasn’t really enjoying it? I wanted to know if there was a point to everything that Zachary was experiencing (not to mention a point to me devoting many hours to getting to the midpoint of the book). I’m glad I finished the book, because it does come together in the end. I also enjoyed one of the side stories, The Secret Diary of Katrina Hawkins a lot more because it was grounded in realism compared to the rest of the other stories. However, it took a lot of struggling and frustration to get there.

The Starless Sea is not going to be a book for everyone. As someone who likes character and/or plot-driven stories, I need someone to care about, someone to root for, and a story to envelop myself in and this didn’t really offer that for me. I would recommend it for those who have the patience for a book that takes a long time to get to its final destination, with descriptive and whimsical storytelling in between.

Rating: 2 out of 5

Thanks to Penguin Random House for sending me a review copy.

The Starless Sea is available from Australian bookstores for RRP$32.99 or from The Book Depository.

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Jeann is an Aussie YA blogger and mum who loves to read and recommend books! You can usually find me fangirling about books on my various social media channels including Twitter @happyindulgence, Instagram and Youtube.

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9 responses to “The Starless Sea Review: Where Did it Go Wrong?

  1. I couldn’t even really tell you why I pushed through this book. I could only read 50 pages at a time and it actually took me WEEKS to finish it, which is something that never happens with me. But every time I sat down to read I didn’t want to pick it up, haha. But in the end I am kind of glad I read it because the way the author tied everything together is pretty amazing! I don’t think I’ll read another of her books, though. The Night Circus was a bit of a miss for me and this was just so slow and dense. Funny we felt so similar about this one, Jeann!
    Chiara @ Books for a Delicate Eternity recently posted…The Best and Worst of 2019My Profile

  2. I’m so sorry this one doesn’t work for you! I was excited for this book because I love the Night Circus and the cover IS gorgeous. TNC took a long time for me to read too and it took me a second read to fully appreciate its beauty, which is why I didn’t jump immediately to The Starless Sea as I need to be in the right mood for it. It’s sad that the main character was really passive and nothing really happened. I prefer plot compared to character development so I guess it’s going to be a tough one for me.

    Thanks for sharing!
    Tasya @ The Literary Huntress recently posted…The Black Hawks by David WraggMy Profile

  3. Oh thank you so much for your enlightening review, Jeann! <3 I struggled a little bit with the night circus at first, to get into the world and its slowness and the different stories intertwined, so it's good to know that this should happen to me too with the starless sea. I really love the author's writing and her imagination, but I might wait to really be in the mood to get to that one! 🙂

  4. I started listening to this book, but only made it about 21% in. I was just so lost and confused and had no idea what was going on. I think it was the omniscient narrator and the guy’s voice not changing at all between sections. I gave up. I’m not sad about that after reading your review.

  5. Great review! I haven’t been hyped about the release of The Starless Sea because I wasn’t a huge lover of The Night Circus – I found that novel meandered too much for me and I didn’t really care about the main characters – so I’m glad I’ve read your review, because by the sounds of it Erin Morgenstern isn’t an author for me. She writes beautifully, and I love her ideas, but like you I need characters I can behind to enjoy a book, and Zachary sounds like he’d get on my nerves!
    Jess @ Jessticulates recently posted…Top Ten Tuesday | Asian-inspired fantasy that’s STILL on my TBR #YARC2019My Profile

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