The starless sea

by Erin Morgenstern

Hardcover, 2019




New York : Doubleday, [2019]


"Zachary Ezra Rawlins is a graduate student in Vermont when he discovers a rare 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 a subterranean 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 of honey, 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 beautiful 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 rare book and in his own life"--… (more)

User reviews

LibraryThing member NeedMoreShelves
It's just magical.

This novel won't be for everyone. Erin Morgenstern has a specific writing style - if you need lots of plot, she might not be for you. For me, Erin Morgenstern is one of our modern-day fairytale tellers - and I believe we need new fairytales as adults just as much as our children do.

This novel is a love letter to stories. It's about the way a story takes us on a journey; teaches us how to be brave; reminds us of the importance of friendship; allows us to fall in love; breaks our heart and then heals it again.

This will be my favorite book of 2019. It's magic, pure and simple.
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LibraryThing member kimkimkim
Zachary Ezra Rawlins is the son of a fortune Teller. He is alive. He is here. This is happening.

Dorian is hmm, well for sure he is a love interest, maybe a foil, a lot of other things????

Mirabel is Fate. She is not a person but something else wrapped up in a person.

There is a Keeper waiting, biding time, waiting

Allegra Cavallo is The Painter

Simon JONATHAN Keating is a man lost in time

Eleanor is The Rabbit and a Captain, sailing, sailing, sailing

There is a pirate and a girl

There are those who lose their tongues, their hands, their eyes – these are choices that are made

There are bees, a mouse, a feather, a crown, a heart

The owl king is a phenomenon. The Parliament of owls propels the story forward

A ship without a sea. A library, A city. A fire, A figure in a fur coat on a beach…… A woman with pink hair…..

Stardust and stories

The whole story is always leading to a goodbye.

Brilliant, confusing, double back and switch around. If I read this book seven or eight more times, I might be able to fit together more of the puzzle pieces, but maybe not. I really liked the book.
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LibraryThing member bookworm12
I’m a huge fan of The Night Circus, so my expectations were incredibly high for The Starless Sea. I found it to be long and meandering, but in a good way. I just soaked it up. It felt like an experience, very layered, wonderfully complex. There are stories within stories and characters that are reimagined in each section. The writing style is unique and I’m sure not everyone loves it, but for me, it’s magical.

At the story’s center is Zachary Ezra Rawlins. He’s a graduate student who stumbles upon a book in the library that describes a scene from his life. But the book was published before his birth. Following the bee, key, and sword symbols on the tome, he finds himself at a masquerade and the story spirals from there.

I waited a few weeks after finishing it before writing down my thoughts. There’s so much to process and I still feel like it’s marinating in my brain. Mirabel has stayed with me, with her fierce determination. The keys hanging from the ceiling of a dark house still sway in my mind. The warm fire at the Innkeeper’s hearth, the cocktails at the Algonquin, a story-telling pirate, a ship sailing on a sea of honey, and the parliament of owls, the parade of images is endless and enthralling.

Fate and Time fall in love. The Moon meets the Sun to talk through the issues on earth. Doors appear that lead you into a subterranean library filled with twisting corridors and a kitchen that mysteriously fulfills your needs. There are classic, but complicated villains. There are lovers kept apart by time. There are dollhouses and cats, whispered words and fires.

There is too much to describe in a single review and I know that if I read the book a dozen times I would still find more to discover. The world Morgenstern creates is so vivid and beautiful and complex. In a similar style to The Night Circus, she flips back and forth between descriptive scenes and Zachary’s story. The plot moves forward, then it wanders off, then it diverges again and you realize it was connected all along. I know I’ll dive back into this one soon to experience it all over again.

“A girl lost in the woods is a different sort of creature than a girl who walks purposefully through the trees even though she does not know her way.”
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LibraryThing member Perednia
The author of the beloved The Night Circus does not disappoint. There are stories entangled with each other, characters who appear and disappear and appear again in another story, the essence of life and imagined worlds on every page. In a novel where Time and Fate fall in love, the marvels keep on coming. A book to savor until the very last word.… (more)
LibraryThing member DrApple
I loved this book. I recently heard it called magical realism. Whatever we call it, it is amazing. The story travels through magical worlds and features a quest. Books and stories are the focus, and I think ant bibliophile will cherish this work.
LibraryThing member indygo88
One day as a young boy, Zachary Rawlins finds a door painted on a wall. He's pretty sure this isn't just any door, and if he chose to, he could probably open it. But for whatever reason, he chooses not to, and the next time he passes by, the door is gone. Fast forward another 10+ years and Zachary is a grad student in Vermont. He finds a mysterious book in the library, a book with no listed author and with mysterious and unknown origins. The book is especially intriguing because it includes the story of he himself as a boy, finding the door on the wall. A series of odd and coincidental events follows, which result in Zachary finding himself in a strange but intriguing underworld, a world filled with books, symbolism, and strange but endearing characters.

Erin Morgenstern's previous book, The Night Circus, enraptured a lot of readers due to its magical and vivid storytelling and imagery. While I enjoyed the uniqueness of that book and liked it for the most part, it didn't suck me in or blow me away like it did many people. But the premise of The Starless Sea, a story about books and symbols and mysterious underground tunnels, piqued my interest and like many other readers, I was anxious to see what this follow-up book had to offer. Like its predecessor, the storytelling was beautiful, almost magical, and it's a hard book not to get swept up into. But also like its predecessor, it's hard to follow at times, and sometimes you just have to forego logic and enjoy the ride. I'll be the first to admit that I was confused about a majority of the plot of this story and it felt like I had more questions than answers. It generated quite a good discussion at book club and I felt a little more gratified knowing that I wasn't the only one with loads of unanswered questions.

Again, I was left with a feeling of "I think I liked this book", but not sure I loved it. Sometimes I have trouble truly immersing myself in a story that's not logical, and this one seems to fall into that category. But it was fun to discuss, and I do find myself, a week later, still thinking about this book a lot and sort of wishing it hadn't ended. So there's that.
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LibraryThing member JJbooklvr
It has been a long time since her last book The Night Circus, which is still one of my all-time favorite books. I was so worried this one would never meet my expectations. It not only met them, but exceeded them far beyond what I could have dreamed. I had to force myself to slow down reading it so I could savor every moment. I LOVED THIS BOOK! I won't say more because I don't want to even give a hint of spoilers.… (more)
LibraryThing member BethYacoub
WOW!! I just finished listening to this Audiobook and I am blown away by the enormity of it all.
I LOVE Erin Morgenstern, I always have! In fact, the Night Circus happens to be in my top 10 favorite standalones of all time!! Her inexhaustible imagination is enviable. Her brain is both unique and fascinating in equal measure and always comes dressed to impress. Her ethereal, yet distinctly un-floofy (it's a word) writing invokes a visceral response in me that is downright Pavlovian.

“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.”

This was one such book for me. I was wanting, needing, fiending for... Something. A Something book rich in both body and soul. Even though I am a HUGE fan of her work/brain/Worlds, when I finally commited to sitting down and wrapping myself up in the Starless Sea, I had no idea it would satiate my literary cravings so completely.

The writing, of course, is sublime. It is transcendent, boundless, celestial and Extra... Extra-ordinary, extra whimsical and extra je ne sai quoi. There are many intricate machinations going on simultaneously. The myriad of characters are supernal and each a star in their own right. There are incredible circumstances that intersect and moments that interject. There are unforeseen twists and great loping turns... both of which may very well be described as Finesse incarnate... so much so that you will find yourself scouring the prose for clues while blissfully being swept up and away... simply grateful to be brought along for the ride.

It feels like I took in a great many threads and wove together an approximation (be it a beautiful approximation) of what the tapestry was meant to be. There is SO much going on in the Starless Sea and I know, with 100% certainty, that there are still new threads to discover... tidbits scattered here and there to be gathered and incorporated into the whole with each successive revisit, gently augmenting it in subtle yet significant ways.

Within these pages lay stories embedded within tales and a beautifully rounded cast of characters within the lore. It is a multi hued yarn that comes together to form a picture tangible enough to envelope you and your inner King of the Wildthings. It kept me in a state of perpetual awe. It is a refuge... a love letter to the Story and the Storyteller alike. For those who feel lost or those that feel there should be something more to this life... Something more magical, adventurous, dangerous, spectacular or simply just... more. This is an invitation for we dreamers to let loose and dream impossible dreams. It calls to those of us who "are here to wander through other people's stories, searching for our own." For we are the consummate revelers among the harbors embracing the edges of the Starless Sea.

All of the above is both accurate and adjective laden SO I'll boil it down to this-- this book is all sorts of evocative, fanciful, wonderous, and lush AND I can not recommend it highly enough!
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LibraryThing member wyvernfriend
It's a story of books and secrets and doors and secret organisations that have different agendas and the life of a story. It was an interesting read and involving and made me miss more than one sleep deadline.
LibraryThing member bookczuk
All my life I've looked for doors to other worlds. Who knew they could be drawn on walls, too? Erin Morgenstern's imagery captured me as much as her story (stories?) did. There are world out there we are destined to discover, and they're all in books.
LibraryThing member bell7
*E-ARC received from Edelweiss/Above the Treeline in exchange for an honest review. I also received a signed copy of a paper ARC. Opinions all my own. Officially comes out November 5.*

Zachary Ezra Rawlins is the son of a fortune teller and a grad student who really likes stories and video games but hasn't quite figured out what to do with his life. When he happens upon a mysterious book in the college library entitled Sweet Sorrows, he finds himself in the story and can't put it down. Where did the book come from? What is the Starless Sea - and why is he in the book?

Fans of The Night Circus will be ecstatic over Erin Morgenstern's latest, a riff on storytelling in multiple formats (yep, even video games). The intricate plot includes stories with fairy tale qualities alongside Zachary's tale in interlaced chapters, blurring reality and illusion and leaving you wondering about the importance of stories in books and the ones you tell yourself. Recommended for fans of The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon and Among Others by Jo Walton.
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LibraryThing member jillrhudy
I received an advanced reader's copy of this book from Doubleday via Netgalley.

If you love to read--no, truly feel as though you were put on earth to read--Morgenstern has created a fantasy world that you'll deeply wish you could find a portal into, perhaps more than you ever wanted to hop a train to Hogwarts or crawl through a wardrobe to Narnia. If avid readers and librarians were Tolkien's elves, their Further Shore would be the harbor of the Starless Sea, with its innumerable books, cozy reading nooks, gigantic ballroom, and endless possibilities for world-building and perusing.

With sympathetic nerdy characters and engrossing (if sometimes perplexing) interpolated chapters from the three books within the book, the novel spins toward a satisfying ending. Our hero is Zachary Ezra Rawlings, gamer and graduate student in Emerging Media Studies. Our other hero, conceived outside of time in the Harbor so that no rules really apply to her, is Mirabel. Romance abounds: Mirabel and Zachary each have a love interest in the Harbor, and there is also an epic love story along the lines of "Somewhere in Time" or "The Time Traveler's Wife." Zachary also has a feisty buddy named Kat in Emerging Media Studies who turns detective when he goes missing.

As for villains, some guardians of the Harbor have gone rogue in the attempt to keep the riffraff away from the books out of fear of pedestrian traffic and (shudder) hashtags. They are armed with paintbrushes and firearms and they aren't messing around.

If the novel has a weakness, it's that there are so many characters, symbols, and subplots that it's easy to get lost if you stop reading, or even if you don't: I'm still not clear about how some mythical elements relate to the overall story. "The Starless Sea" is a worthy follow-up to the masterful bestseller "The Night Circus" and should delight librarians, gamers, and bibliophiles everywhere.
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LibraryThing member readergirliz
I wanted so much to like this book more than I did. I read The Night Circus a few years back and just fell into the story. Erin Morgenstern's writing is still absolutely gorgeous, but the plot doesn't quite work for me. I feel like she was trying to do too many things at once, and couldn't decide if it should be an adventure story or love story or book of short stories. Nearly all of the character's stories are resolved, which I always like, but there were just so many of them and could have been nixed from the plot line. I think this book could have used some more editing. I will read Erin Morgenstern in the future for sure, but this one didn't 100% work for me.… (more)
LibraryThing member EdGoldberg
I'll be honest on this one-I truly didn't understand it, yet I enjoyed reading it. Go figure.
LibraryThing member mzonderm
This is a book about the power and magic of stories. It is best read in print, and possibly by candlelight, for all the magic to come through, but even reading the e-book was very magical.

There's no meaningful way to sum up this book or to adequately capture the beauty of the language except to say that the story is wonderful and the language more than does it justice. But here's a taste (and definitely not the best taste, but the easiest one to take out of context): "I don't know if I believe that [endings are what give stories meaning]. I think the whole story has meaning but I also think to have a whole story-shaped story it needs some sort of resolution. Not even a resolution, some appropriate place to leave it. A goodbye. I think the best stories feel like they're still going, somewhere, out in story space." And later, " story ever truly ends as long as it is told."

Morgenstern is true to her word here. In and around all this magic and fancy, there's an actual plot, which is brought to something sort of like a resolution by the end. But this story definitely keeps going. Not in the sense of needing a sequel (although I wouldn't complain), but in the sense that it will live in my head for a long time to come.
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LibraryThing member over.the.edge
The Starless Sea : A Novel
by Erin Morgenstern
4.5 / 5.0

A magical story of romance, mystique and transporting-- fantastic, imaginative and mesmerizing. Exceeded my expectations, because ´Night Circus´ was so damn good...this is absolutely as good, and among the best I have read this year.

Zachary Ezra Rawlins search begins with a mysterious book he found at his campus library. One of the stories in this book, written years before he was born, is a story from his own childhood. A bee, a key and a sword on this books cover lead Zachary to Mirabel, a painter with pink hair, and Dorian, a handsome barefoot man who becomes very special to Zachary (¨ do not call me Zack¨).

Both Mirabel, and Dorian, lead Zachary to masquerade parties, and into secret societies where doorknobs hang from ribbons as a token of a doorway explored, and opened. I loved this! Eventually, Zachary is able to find the doorway he has been searching for, a world filled with books, wine, romance and mystique.

A beautiful and spellbinding novel. Highly recommended.
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LibraryThing member EBT1002
"I got to thinking all of this might be a halfway decent game if it were a game. Part spy movie, part fairy tale, part choose your own adventure. Epic branching story that doesn't stick to a single genre or one set path and turns into different stories but it's all the same story."

"You meet someone in a bar. You follow them or you don't.
You open a door. Or you don't.
Either way the point is: What happens next?"

This is an excerpt from the diary of Kat Hawkins, a major/minor character in this crazy, meandering, maddeningly boring novel, and it perfectly describes the novel itself. It's filled with stories within stories (some of them beautiful) and world-building that is perhaps brilliant but also agonizingly repetitive. I would just start to feel like I had gotten some traction, like the story was actually going to take me by the t-shirt lapels and lead me somewhere, and the narrative would descend yet again into describing a cave or a hall or a massive library full of symbols and metaphors and doors, always doors. And when the story/stories started to wrap up, Ms. Morgenstern's glee was discernible as she tortured the reader with eternal narrative about, well, the fact that the story was (mercifully but truly not quickly enough) ending. Or not ending. With this novel, you never know. It's part of the creative beauty. I think I'm actually glad I read it but it painfully occupied several hours that I will never get back again.
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LibraryThing member CJ82487
After reading some reviews, I can understand why people might throw in the towel early. The saddest part of that is, though, they will never get to see the wonderful picture of the Starless Sea that all those little puzzle pieces create. There is a lot going on here. This is a story about a story with in a story that's wrapped in a story and told to readers through multiple perspectives. It can be a lot to keep track of, but in the end all of those stories are the same story. They all make sense, add up, come together, and it's wonderful to behold. Morgenstern again creates this beautiful world that you can't help but dive into head first and unwillingly have to let go because life is calling you away. I patiently waited for its publication and then again for my copy from the library and I have not been disappointed. To each their own, as usual, but I loved this story. It is books like this, that create worlds within the pages, that have made me a reader.… (more)
LibraryThing member jmoncton
This is probably one of the most anticipated books of the year and in some ways it's easy to see why. Erin Moregenstern can write. She can weave together words to create lush beautiful poetry. But The Starless Sea is a novel about a labyrinth of stories and maybe that was my problem. The labyrinth was so complicated that I got lost. And yes, at different turns, I enjoyed a short vignette or story, but, at least for me, the pieces didn't fit together into a gorgeous masterpiece, but more of a hodge podge of individual tales. And at the end, I'm still not exactly sure what happened.

Some people will love this book just for the beauty of the prose, but the potential was for so much more.
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LibraryThing member ablachly
This is a Möbius strip of a novel, with a graduate student, an underground library, and layers upon layers of twisty stories to sort through. It’s magical and fantastical and oh so worth the delightful ride it takes you on.
LibraryThing member GirlWellRead
A special thank you to for an audiobook listening copy.

Beginning with our protagonist not opening a very special door, The Starless Sea is an expanse of stories from a realm that contains lost cities and seas, and stories whispered by the dead.

Zachary Ezra Rawlins, now grown and a graduate student, finds an authorless book in his Uni library which has detailed him seeing (and not opening) that door. Completely baffled, armed with clues—a bee, a key, and a sword—and at a loss of how anyone could have known of this experience from his childhood, Zachary sets off on a journey to discover his life's purpose and what was behind the door.

After an eight year hiatus, Morgenstern returns with her elegant prose. This beautifully lyrical masterpiece is a story made up of stories, fables, and fairytales. Erin makes connections to these stories by interspersing them throughout Zachary's journey of self-discovery where he finds his own place in the book's narrative.

Told through an omniscient narrator, The Starless Sea is a whopping 512 pages of dazzling imagery. When I attended an event with Erin, she spoke of how she likes her books to have a strong visual language. This comes as no surprise given the intricate detail in the book.

Unlike other readers that found fault with there being too many stories with the actual story, my criticism has to do with the characters themselves. Morgenstern's writing is so visually stunning, her descriptions are rich and vivid, truly a feast for the senses, but the characters are the opposite—they are flat in that they are not fully fleshed out. One of my favourite descriptions in the book was Allegra's collection of door handles that were suspended like a mobile. We also never find out the symbolism and meaning behind the main visuals throughout the story: the bee, the sword, and the key. Perhaps this was done on purpose to leave the reader to draw their own conclusions? Or maybe the book is one giant metaphor?

The pure magic and genius of this book will solidify Morgenstern as one of the most gifted and unique writers today.
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LibraryThing member streamsong
A story about stories: where stories come from, how they become stories, how people fall into them.

In this story ,people fall into tales through secret doors where they find ports and cities and wilderness along a sea deep underground where starlight is never reflected.

I found the writing beautiful. The descriptions of objects, settings and scenes were lush and vivid. The characters were a bit more confusing as people were known by other names in other lifetimes and a time maze often mixed them together.

It was interesting to me that the author was trying to describe role playing games as a new form of storytelling – and I learned that those incidents that make a story compelling also make games compelling.

But it fell a little flat for me. The story wasn’t enough to pull me along. Perhaps if I was a devotee of role playing games, I would have appreciated it more.
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LibraryThing member Aronfish
Sadly, I gave up on this book midway. I was a huge fan of the Night Circus, but this book just seemed confusing and repetitive. At over 500 pages it seems in huge need of editing. I really wanted to like it, but just couldn't plow through it.
LibraryThing member ChelleBearss
While this felt a lot longer than The Night Circus, and sometimes felt a little too long, it definitely had all the same feels as the first novel by Morgenstern. Very magical! I did get lost at a couple spots and had to reread a few pages to figure out what was happening, but overall this was a four star read.
These two books are not connected in any way, so someone that has not read The Night Circus could pick this up and read it. Although anyone who hasn't tried reading the The Night Circus should immediately do that first!… (more)
LibraryThing member asawyer
If this book hadn't helped me get through sanding, patching, and painting a wall (no doors with locks or bees/swords/keys), it would have had no redeeming value. After listening closely to the whole book, I still have no idea what happened or what the point was. The premise was interesting enough... a secret magical library with acolytes, keepers, and guardians, and a mystery about a book that seems to traverse time, but everything fell apart from there. As Goodreads reviewer Lisa Lynch explains (great review) the book goes nowhere, the characters are undeveloped, the "love story" isn't, the flow is overly disruptive, and I still don't know how the book ended - other than stars shining over the Starless Sea. Disappointing.… (more)



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