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Review: The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern

The Starless Sea

Erin Morgenstern

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.

My Rating:

A rich fantasy by the author of The Night Circus is packed full of symbolism and new world fairy tales. Erin Morgenstern’s latest, The Starless Sea follows a young man, Zachary Ezra Rawlins, through a maze of mystery to a world tucked deep down below the surface of the world.

As a child, Zachary does not open the painted door into the supernatural world of the starless sea, but that does not mean it has forgotten about him. Years on, he is now a graduate student who is incredibly well-read with a penchant for retro cocktails.

Our protagonist embarks on a quest to uncover the riddle he seems to be a part of, whether he likes it or not, meeting the beautiful storyteller, Dorian, as well as Mirabel, a woman with pink hair. There are others, of course, and intermixed with Zachary’s ventures; the novel is interspersed with other snippets of tales.

These snippets are sometimes explained, sometimes not, but insights into the backstory of the cast who dapple the book in ranging influence. All in all, it could be described as winding, but in truth, one needs only look for the clues to piece the story together.

The idea of symbols is constant throughout; a bee, a key, the Owl King. The interpretation, it seems, is left truly up to the reader to decide upon. It is not at all like the conventional fantasy; it breaks out of the conforming structures and instead embraces something akin to a relic.

This sweeping novel is like a painting, where colors and shapes and a choice of hand placement mean something, if only one takes the time to examine it. The Starless Sea, like any myth, refuses to decipher itself, expecting more from the viewer, like so many works of great art. Thrilling, wondrous, beautiful, escapist, heartfelt, and magical, Morgenstern has delivered a genuinely astounding and utterly lovable tale.

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