The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern | Book Review

“Once, very long ago, Time fell in love with Fate.”

I received the book, ‘The Starless Sea,’ as a gift.  This was my first introduction to Erin Moregenstern‘s writings. I read, ‘The Starless Sea,’ in an all-night binge. I literally could not put this book down. It is completely interwoven with the magical tapestry of imagination and myth.

The Plot

Zachary Ezra Rawlins is a graduate student in Vermont when he discovers a mysterious book. 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 of 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.


The plot is non-linear and instead – envelopes and unfolds like a tapestry unweaving – or a magician unveiling. The book reads like a puzzle where none of the pieces seem to quite fit – until they finally do. ‘The Starless Sea’ is an experience, with a complex narrative, and deserves to be digested slowly, again and again. It has the intensity of poetry and all the prose of a love letter dedicated to the art and enchantment of storytelling. Erin Morgenstern invokes all the senses in this book – which brings each scene to life with its own rich complexity of depth and texture. I definitely recommend reading it more than once to capture all of the intrinsic details and varying plots (that do intersect and come together in the end). It’s a book of feeling versus logic and it absolutely made me feel so many things: love, bliss, ecstasy, and wonder. In fact, I loved this book so much, I am looking forward to delving into her first book, ‘The Night Circus.’

Bravo, Erin Moregenstern! Bravo!

Favorite Excerpts

“Far beneath the surface of the earth, hidden from the sun and the moon, upon the shores of the Starless Sea, there is a labyrinthine collection of tunnels and rooms filled with stories. Stories written in books and sealed in jars and painted on walls. Odes inscribed onto skin and pressed into rose petals. Tales laid in tiles upon the floors, bits of plot worn away by passing feet. Legends carves in crystal and hung from chandeliers. Stories cataloged and cared for and revered. Old stories preserved while new stories spring up around them…”


“Once there was a woman who sculpted stories. She sculpted them from all manner of things. At first she worked with snow or smoke or clouds, because their tales were temporary, fleeting. Gone in moments, visible and readable only to those who happened to be present in the time between carving and disintegrating, but the sculptor preferred this. It left no time to fuss over details or imperfections…Many never read before they cease to exist, but the story sculptor remembers. Passionate love stories that were manipulated into the vacancies between raindrops and vanished with the end of the storm. Tragedies intricately poured from bottles of wine and sipped thoughtfully with melancholy and fine cheese. Fairytales shaped from sand and seashells on shorelines slowly swept away by softly lapping waves…”

“These doors will sing. Silent siren songs for those who seek what lies behind them. For those who feel homesick for a place they’ve never been to. Those who seek even if they do not know what (or where) it is that they are seeking. Those who seek will find. Their doors have been waiting for them.”


“Once, very long ago, Time fell in love with Fate. This, as you might imagine, proved problematic. Their romance disrupted the flow of time. It tangled the strings of fortune into knots.  The stars watched from the heavens nervously, worrying what might occur. What might happen to the days and nights were time to suffer a broken heart? What catastrophes might result if the same fate awaited Fate itself? The stars conspired and separated the two. For a while they breathed easier in the heavens. Time continued to flow as it always had, or perhaps imperceptibly slower. Fate weaved together the paths that were meant to intertwine, though perhaps a string was missed here and there. But eventually, Fate and Time found each other again.  In the heavens, the stars sighed, twinkling and fretting. They asked the Moon her advice. The Moon in turn called upon the parliament of owls to decide how best to proceed. The parliament of owls convened to discuss the matter amongst themselves night after night. They argued and debated while the world slept around them, and the world continued to turn, unaware that such important matters were under discussion while it slumbered.  The parliament of owls came to the logical conclusion that if the problem was in the combination, one of the elements should be removed. They chose to keep the one they felt more important. The parliament of owls told their decision to the stars and the stars agreed. The Moon did not, but on this night she was dark and could not offer her opinion.  So it was decided, and Fate was pulled apart. Ripped into pieces by beaks and claws. Fate’s screams echoed through the deepest corners and the highest heavens but no one dared to intervene save for a small brave mouse who snuck into the fray, creeping unnoticed through the blood and bone and feathers, and took Fate’s heart and kept it safe. When the furor died down there was nothing else left of Fate.  In the heavens the stars sparkled with relief but the moon was full of sorrow. And so time goes as it should and events that were once fated to happen are left instead to chance, and Chance never falls in love with anything for long. But the world is strange and endings are not truly endings no matter how the stars might wish it so.  Occasionally Fate can pull itself together again.  And Time is always waiting.”

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