The Starless Sea || Book Review

“Strange, isn’t it? To love a book. When the words on the pages become so precious that they feel like part of your own history because they are. It’s nice to finally have someone read stories I know so intimately.”

Imagine a place where stories are inscribed on autumn leaves or carved onto rocks. Stories folded into paper birds or woven into spiderwebs. Imagine sweeping stone halls brimming with books and cosy alcoves where you can sit comfortably in and read until you lose track of time. Imagine a place that can be reached by beautifully painted doorways, or maybe a door in your house hiding in plain sight. Imagine.

This is the story of Zachary Ezra Rawlins, a graduate student in Vermont who discovers a strange book in the library. Among its stories, there is one which leaves him utterly mystified: a story that happened in his own childhood. Desperate to seek answers to his questions, he follows symbols and clues that lead him to a literature-inspired masquerade party in New York, a secret club, and a doorway to a subterranean library. This library is not just a home for books and their guardians. It is also a place of lost harbours, a starless sea and stories lost in time, waiting to be rediscovered. But this is not just a story about Zachary. It is a multitude of stories that are both separate and intertwined but which ultimately converge like a tightly knit ball of twine.

It’s true what Erin Morgenstern says: “books are always better when read rather than explained.” No single word in the dictionary is able to fully describe that flame which a story kindles in your heart and soul,  that warms your very being and reminds you why you read in the first place. This is the kind of book that you need to experience on your own because no lengthly descriptions or explanations can do it justice. It also needs time and patience, not the kind of book you read in one sitting. You need to savour it slowly and allow the words to whisk you in. Honestly, after closing the book each night, I felt disoriented and out of sorts, almost like the story was real and my life was not!

The author’s writing is absolutely exquisite, like a balm on any worn-out soul. Every page offers comfort to all the people who have relied on stories to survive, to all those who need words to breath as much as air, to those who have found a hidden doorway in their lives but haven’t find the will to open it yet. Erin Morgenstern is a wordsmith goddess, able to weave a complicated set of multiple stories that may appear random and disjointed on the outset, but as you get more invested in the narrative, you start to piece all of them together until you end up with a beautifully finished puzzle in the end. Her descriptions are impeccable and conjure up images of characters and places as if they were actually real.

The characters are diverse and a joy to read about. I guess Zachary represents all of us readers; always seeking books like his life depended on them. I absolutely adored his relationship with Dorian. One of my favourite scenes together is the one during the masquerade party. That was when I realised how much I wanted a happy ending for these characters, if such stories have endings! What’s also wonderful about this book is that characters range from mysterious women with pink hair, to metaphorical pirates, wandering cats, talking bees and owls. Fate and Time also demand their story to be heard, as also the Moon and her lover.

“For a while I was looking for a person but I didn’t find them and after that I was looking for myself. Now that I’ve found me I’m back to exploring, which is what I was doing in the first place before I was doing anything else and I think I was supposed to be exploring all along.”

I admit that initially I felt disconnected from the story and the characters, maybe because I was seeking signs that would lead me back to the familiar paths of The Night Circus, until I realised that I was doing a disservice to such a incredible book by seeking another story in it. The Starless Sea is as whimsical and mysterious as The Night Circus, but that is where the similarities end.  It is a story about stories; how they transcend time and space; how they change our lives and how our lives change them. It is an ode to all you lovely bibliophiles out there. You should not miss out on this adventure!

“I think people came here for the same reason we came here,” Dorian says. “In search of something. Even if we didn’t know what it was. Something more. Something to wonder at. Someplace to belong. We’re here to wander through other people’s stories, searching for our own.”

Rating: ☆☆☆☆☆

  • Genre: Adult, Fantasy
  • Edition: Vintage Publishing, Hardback, Waterstones Exclusive Edition
  • Pages: 498

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