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.
I genuinely feel like this book was written for me, and meant to be read by me. I can’t even fully put into words how much I adored this story but I’ll try and give it a go and form some semblance of a coherent review for you guys. I was actually lucky enough to attend an event recently which was run by Lush and Waterstones, where Erin Morgenstern was actually at and it was such an incredible evening consisting of a Q&A, theatrics and a book signing which made me even more excited to delve in to the story. I was not disappointed! This book is a literary treasure trove, something to be cherished, and it’s a book I know I’ll return to time and time again through the years and rediscover what I loved over and over again.
The Starless Sea is a love letter to stories and the power stories can and do hold for so many of us. Within it’s pages you’ll find a whole range of beautiful stories, some standalone and others are woven into the main narrative which I loved. It reminded me of those Russian nesting dolls, where you open one and find another, then another and another and it was so thrilling to discover. Much like Zachary, we read these stories and try and make ‘sense’ of them, and try and work out how it all fits together, which was a great experience as a reader and utterly immersive.
“Not all stories speak to all listeners, but all listeners can find a story that does, somewhere, sometime. In one form or another.”
Erin Morgensterns writing is so wildly imaginative and gorgeous, I loved her lush descriptions of the underground libraries with the dazzling ballrooms, the little reading nooks and dark corners, and the faded splendour of it all. She is a wordsmith in every sense of the word and I loved how none were wasted. There are so many stunning quotable lines from this novel, which I know I’ll carry with me. Not only is her actual writing style so up my street but I loved the genuine love of books and stories that just leaps off the page, you can just tell that she is just as much a reader as she is a writer and that passion definitely comes through and adds a special touch.
Zachary Ezra Rawlins is definitely one of my favourite protagonists now, I felt so connected to him and found him so relatable, painfully so at times. There are so many layers to this character, one being his love of stories and the other being his overwhelming sense of not belonging in the world around him. I think a lot of people will be able to relate to this feeling of being out of place, like you’re not quite fitting in to the life you’ve been living thus far and there’s something more out there. For Zachary, this is even truer as he embarks on a long awaited journey of discovery, after borrowing a mysterious book titled Sweet Sorrows from his university library and finds what he has been missing his entire life and so much more.
“We are all stardust and stories.”
As well as Zachary being a relatable and intriguing character, I also loved the other characters we meet through the course of the novel. From Mirabel, the mysterious pink haired woman who hides an abundance of secrets and stories to Dorian, the handsome and shoeless man, who has a complicated history which ties them all together. I like that as much as we get to learn about these characters and their pasts and who they are, there’s still some things left unsaid or unexplained. I know some readers may find this frustrating but I loved this choice. Not only does it leave some things open for interpretation and imagination but it also feels like those old stories you hear where some details have been lost forever and there’s a beauty in that, for me at least.
“It is a sanctuary for storytellers and storykeepers and storylovers. They eat and sleep and dream surrounded by chronicles and histories and myths.”
As well as being an immersive story about stories and the drawn out mysteries of the starless sea, there is also a beautiful and wistful love story which is central to the novel. The romance between the two main characters is so well written and I loved how even the quiet moments the two share are powerful and say so much without unnecessary or long winded exposition. It just is what it is and their connection is so vital. I think it’s a beautiful thing when two people feel understood and find what they’ve been missing in each other, especially when they didn’t know they were searching at all. Okay I’m going to stop waxing poetic about them now but seriously go read this book guys.
“This person is a place Zachary could lose himself in, and never wish to be found.”
Additionally, I also thoroughly enjoyed the many literary and popular culture references which are woven in to the novel. You know when you’re reading a novel and there’s a character who is meant to be in their twenties but acts and talks like they’re way older or too much like someone elses idea of a millennial, and nothing about them feels genuine? Yeah, Morgenstern avoids that tired trope and Zachary acts and talks and even thinks like an average twenty something year old who is into video games, books and is introverted. It’s believable and I appreciated that it hit the right balance of references, without being overwhelming. My personal favourites were the video game references and the bits where Zachary mentally checks his ‘inventory’, these made me laugh because that’s exactly what I would do if I was on some epic quest.
Overall, I loved The Starless Sea and the journey that Morgenstern took me on, it holds such a beloved place in my heart now and I can’t wait to read whatever she releases next, whenever that happens. I encourage any reader to give this book a chance, it’s such an incredible feat and I hope you love it as much as I do.
Until next time,