02 June 2020

Review: The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern

The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern cover
When I started reading The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern, I was full of expectation and excited at the prospect of participating in another buddy read.

Almost immediately I was drawn in by the stories within stories, the fairytale vibe, the evocative writing and incredible imagery. The secret society, underground libraries and corridors full of books and manuscripts as far as the eye could see reminded me of past favourites, including Mr Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan, The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon and Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor. For these reasons and more I was certain I was in for a real treat and possibly a new favourite.
"Do you believe in the mystical, the fantastical, the improbable, or the impossible? Do you believe that things others dismiss as dreams and imagination actually exist? Do you believe in fairy tales?" Page 440
Strictly speaking, fantasy is usually outside of my comfort zone, and there were several story elements that seemed to go nowhere. However I had complete confidence the author would bring the threads together by the end somehow in an astonishingly impressive and rewarding way for the dedicated reader.
"I’m here to sail the Starless Sea and breathe the haunted air." Pg 234
The descriptive writing propelled me through the layers of story and I continued to sail the starless sea with our characters as they opened doors, collected keys, read stories, got lost and then found themselves again. Unfortunately the shine started to wear off at around the midway point for me.
"But most of the memories are stories. Pieces of them. Blind wanderers and star-crossed lovers, grand adventures and hidden treasures. Mad kings and cryptic witches." Page 89
The disparate stories and threads did come together in the end, but in a way I found unbelievable, unrealistic and a little confusing. If the structure of the novel had been based a little more in reality with less fantasy elements, this might have remained a 5 star read for me. Unfortunately it went down a path I'm unskilled at following, regardless of how determined I was to keep pace.
"We are all stardust and stories." Page 373
So, how do I rate a book with extraordinary and evocative writing, a world I desperately wanted to know more about but an ending that didn't deliver? If I give 5 stars for the writing and 3 stars for the story and ending, I think a 4 star rating overall sounds fair.

I wasn't alone in my disappointment, with many of the buddy readers having just finished The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern and finding this one lacking the same magic (pun intended). It's very possible I might enjoy The Night Circus more than this, so I've added it to my TBR.

Carpe Librum!

My Rating:

Would you like to comment?

  1. Great review! It'll be interesting to see how I go when I get to it.

    1. Thanks Claire, I hope you enjoy it when you're ready to pick it up.

  2. I loved The Night Circus, and as a result I am a bit reluctant to read this one because I don't think it will live up to that one.

    1. All I can say for certain Marg, is that I haven't seen or heard anyone who has read The Night Circus say - or write - that they enjoyed this one even more. I can understand your reluctance and leave the decision up to you. But that cover is divine and those quotes are a little tempting...lol.

    2. It didn't Marg. It didn't even come close to The Night Circus, unfortunately.


Thanks for your comment, Carpe Librum!