This review does not contain spoilers.
In late September, I finally put The Starless Sea to rest. While full of lovely prose, big ideas and an interesting world, I found it very disappointing.
Here’s a cut of the synopsis:
Far beneath the surface of the earth, upon the shores of the Starless Sea, there is a labyrinthine collection of tunnels and rooms filled with stories. The entryways that lead to this sanctuary are often hidden… But those who seek will find. Their doors have been waiting for them.
Zachary Ezra Rawlins is searching for his door, though he does not know it… When he discovers a mysterious book in the stacks of his campus library he begins to read, entranced by tales of lovelorn prisoners, lost cities, and nameless acolytes. Suddenly a turn of the page brings Zachary to a story from his own childhood impossibly written in this book that is older than he is.The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern, Goodreads
It’s a book about books, about literature, narratives, video games, myth and fairy tales. It is fantastical and the world feels big and splendid. You’d think I’d be the exact kind of person this book was written for.
Spoiler: I am not. I’m not sure who this book is for. People who can look past a nonsensical plot, I think. I mean, fairy tales aren’t known for making a lot of logical sense but several hundred pages of, “Why is this happening? How did we go from here to there?” will wear on a reader.
In fact, I got halfway through but had to put this book down for a month or two out of frustration. I picked it up again after looking at my Goodreads reading challenge and seeing I was close to falling behind in my goal to read 25 books this year.
Here’s what I felt was problematic:
- Little to no sense of meaningful plot. And by plot, I mean why is this thing happening after this thing? Why is the main character doing this? Why is the antagonist doing this? What is going on?
- I kept losing interest as the author switched away from the Zachary’s storyline. She interwove a few short stories into the narrative that added flavor, but not meaning and also no new clarity.
- The characters were flat. Cardboard cutouts that didn’t grow on me.
- The romance between Dorian and Zachary was thrown together and didn’t feel real. Actually, there were a few romantic relationships and I never felt strongly about any of them.
- The ending didn’t answer anything. And if I’m supposed to read it again to get the full value, I’m going to have to pass.
Anyway, I won’t belabor the points. There’s a great review on Goodreads by Lisa Lynch (warning for mild spoilers) that captures my main issues with this book. Check it out.
So, while it’s got some lovely words in lovely order, this sophomore offering by Morgenstern is a real bunt. Luckily for Morgenstern, my opinion is in the minority and her novel recently won the Dragon Award.