A Love Story for Bibliophiles: The Starless Sea

Originally published November 2019

You know that anxious feeling when the author of a favorite book releases his or her sophomore effort?

Bookstore clerk: So, are you a fan of …

Me: Omigosh yes I loved that book and was so excited when I heard she had written another.

Bookstore clerk: Me too, I’m just a little …

Me: Omigosh yes what if this stinks?

So it went when I bought Erin Morgenstern’s “The Starless Sea” when it came out two weeks ago. I’ve been waiting all summer for this book to land on the shelves, having told everyone I knew how much I loved “The Night Circus.

Turns out I never had to worry.

Now, like any person with a favorite author, there’s always that first book you read that is the candle to which all others are held. Morgenstern could write a blockbuster, Pulitzer Prize-winning bestseller and “The Night Circus” would remain my favorite book from her. That said, “The Starless Sea” did not disappoint.

The novel is by its simplest description, a love letter to libraries. An ode to book lovers. The manifestation of our secret desire just to live somewhere quiet and Hygge-like, surrounded by books and wine and friendly cats.

Oh, and the best food available at a moment’s notice.

In short, “The Starless Sea” is the very best of fantasies.

And, like “The Night Circus,” deeply immersed in magic and mystery, with forces both good and evil at play in an attempt to either protect or destroy the land of books and wine and honey that exists beneath the surface of the Earth.

Readers tag along with the protagonist, Zachary Ezra Rawlins, as he discovers a mysterious book within the stacks of his Vermont college library. Strange in nature and uncatalogued, that would normally be enough to make someone ponder – but the inclusion of a very specific childhood memory within the pages has Zachary off to Manhattan to try to track down the book’s origins and discover if there really is, in fact, a starless sea.

Like “The Night Circus,” Morgenstern’s tale of books and time and fate and love and treachery is well-appointed – readers can become lost, in the very best way, in the descriptions of the world book lovers always dream about. I suppose viewing the underground world through a wider lens could make it a bit terrifying – lots of dark, damp staircases, no natural light, empty of residents save the Keeper and an acolyte named Rhyme. But Morgenstern’s depiction, even at its scariest, still feels romantic and brooding.

Clocking in at just under 500 pages, “The Starless Sea” is and should be a slow read. Try to skim through it and you’ll miss details critical to the reader to keep confusion at bay. And it’s likely you’ll still be confused. There are multiple story threads and characters that because of the play on time, make it difficult to discern who fits in where. But the head scratching is worth it.

A great addition to anyone’s book club list for 2020, and a wonderful idea for any book lovers on your holiday shopping list. Loved, loved, loved it and so glad Morgenstern didn’t leave us waiting for another tale any longer.

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