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Erin Morgenstern last captured our hearts back in 2011 with the magical world of The Night Circus, and she’s done it again with The Starless Sea. Poetic and powerful, her second novel unravels a gorgeous world all about stories and the people who love them – a perfect theme for her readers.
The Starless Sea opens with three chapters that you later find out are from a strange, beautiful book that somehow knows about an event from Zachary Ezra Rawlins’ childhood; where he chooses not to open a door that will take him to the Starless Sea, an underground realm where stories and their keepers reside. Shaken at this discovery, he embarks on a mission to find out precisely what this means, following the symbols of the key, the bee, and the sword, leading him to a glamourous party in New York and the handsome storyteller Dorian, pink-haired Mirabel, and Allegra, who is embarking on a destructive mission. Dorian leads him into the mysterious world of the Starless Sea, through countless interwoven stories and tiny diversions, into a magical world full of stories and books.
The beautiful thing about this book is how lyrical it is. The images are so evocative, so intricately woven that you feel what Zachary feels, right down to the softness of his gloves or the beating of his heart. Morgenstern showed what a talented writer she was in the Night Circus, but boy has she improved over her 8-year hiatus. Her words bring everything in the book alive; she makes you believe every word she writes until you too will be searching for a way into the harbour of the Starless Sea.
Perhaps one of the most tantalising things about the novel is the lovely, slow way that it unspools itself, forcing the reader to carefully consider symbols and tease out meaning from the keys and bees it discusses. The first several chapters take an almost maddeningly long time to unravel, and it’s only in the 4th chapter that we meet Zachary, our protagonist. If poorly done, this could have been annoying and boring. Still, Morgenstern’s lyrical writing and mysterious stories keep you hooked, promising just one more chapter before bed several times in a row.
Like The Night Circus, the plot is deceptively simple, albeit wrapped within layers of mystery and intertwining stories. The Night Circus is about two people who love each other trying to find a way to be with each other, and The Starless Sea is about a man who wants to know his fate. Both are beautifully packaged with fantastic writing and unique concepts, transforming an age-old plot into something fresh and new and exciting. As you peel back the layers of the narrative page by page, the characters pull you in with them, making you root for them and pray that everything works out in the end.
The Starless Sea is quintessential Erin Morgenstern: breathtakingly beautiful, powerfully emotive, and a fantastic read. A booklover fantasy, Morgenstern’s follow up to the Night Circus does not disappoint. Set aside an entire day for this one, because you’ll pick it up and become very reluctant to put it back down.