And here we are, at the last review for today. Honestly I don’t think I did this review justice with how absolutely in love I am with this book. So often my reviews are long and elaborate for the things I love this much, but I can not find the words. And thus, instead of forcing them, I did my best. Maybe one day when I read this book again, I will be able to elaborate further but for now I’m letting myself live in the wonder.
Customary warning: This is a reminder that these are my personal opinions. My thoughts and feelings are not your thoughts and feelings. I may not always be the target audience for a book; sometimes I am. If I do not like a book, that doesn’t mean you’ll dislike it. If I love a book or simply like a book, you may hate it. Take everything I say with this knowledge. If it sounds interesting to you despite what I’ve said, then go ahead and read it. You’ll only know you like something if you read it yourself.
That being said… Spoilers ahead.
The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern
Synopsis From The Book
Zachary Ezra Rawlins is a graduate student in Vermont when he discovers a mysterious 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 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—in both the mysterious book and in his own life.
GENRE | AGE RANGE – LABEL |CONTENT WARNING | THEMES
Initial Thoughts Before Reading:
Oh my goodness okay. I am ready to fall in love with reading today. This is my first book of August, and it is also going to be my first NEWTs book. I really loved The Night Circus. I loved it so much for the whimsy of the books, and this one I’ve heard so many good things about. What do I know about this book? Very little. I’ve done my best not to really read the synopsis on the book. I want to be mystified. Erin Morgenstern made me love soft magic, and I am ready for it again!
Whaaaa I’m excited.
Initial Thoughts After Reading:
I’m at a loss.
My plot synopsis is going to give you the details but it will not give you the story. It will give you the concept but not the idea. It will give you a memory and not the moment.
Last year I fell in love with Wicked and Evelyn Hugo in the same month. August. This year I have the Starless Sea before me and I don’t know how to go on. There will be other books and other tales, but just like those two, I am here realizing that perhaps I am not ready for too much magic all at once. I already had A Face Like Glass this year. I wasn’t expecting for another book to slam into me like this one. I wasn’t expecting to love a book as much as I do this one. But it did. I do. It was like it was made just for me to love. And it will sit with me forever.
I want to do a deep analysis on this book, but that’s one of those things that I’m not sure I can. In a way I should just let it be.
But there is so much to dive into, to think about, to explore.
And that’s the beauty of it, isn’t it? That’s the point.
I read my books, the hard covers, without their dust jackets. It leaves my fingers colored in the memory of the back of the books that I cling to, as I spiral into the tales that they have woven for me to enjoy.
And on my book there is a drawing in gold, the image pressed against the book to represent the images within the book. A frame inside a frame inside a frame. And “in the center, at the level where a peephole might be and stylized with lines that match the rest of the painted carving, there is a bee. Beneath the bee there is a key. Beneath the key there is a sword.” (pg 427)
This book is told in two parts. The first part changes with the multiple sections of the book, the second is the main story. The first I will not write much on in this Plot overview, because it is mostly world building, and lore building revolving the Starless Sea, as told through the perspective of stories that Zachary is reading in the context of the main story. The third set in particular, tells the love story of Mirabel’s parents.
However, to being, we must start with a single story. Zachary found a painted door when he was eleven years old. He believed it could take him to another world, but he did not open it. When he is twenty-five years old, he is borrowing books from his school’s library in January. One of them Sweet Sorrow, captures his attention, and is not properly registered in the library system. He takes the book because the third story inside is about him, at eleven, when he didn’t open the painted door. Seeing that he had not traveled to a magical world, yet. Back in his apartment, he finds an odd symbol on the book, and starts trying to figure more about the book after reading it three times. He talks with his friend Kat, and reads it a fourth time. He goes to his friend’s seminar, meeting about stories, gets a message from a librarian, and goes out to drink with Kat and her girlfriend. While there he is told that a man was watching him, he never saw the man. Zachary goes to the library again and finds all the books that were donated with Sweet Sorrow as told to him by the librarian. He loses two of the books.
After more research, Zachary finds a ball that is being held in Manhattan. The ball held the year before had a woman in a picture with the same symbol as the one on Sweet Sorrow. He goes, and dances with a woman (Maribel), and is led through the dark with an intoxicating voice and story about how Fate and Time were lovers until Fate died. He then loses Sweet Sorrow, and gets a note to meet at a library at one. Before he goes he runs into another woman, Allegra, and departs. He meets Dorian at the library, the man who had watched him in the bar earlier, stole his books, and Sweet Sorrow. He wants Zachary to steal a book for him: Fortunes and Fables. Zachary does so, and realizes he’s stealing from the Guardians he read about. They escape to a park where there is a painted door and Zachary goes in but the door is painted over and Dorian can not follow. Zachary does the entrance test (six hearts), and is welcomed to The Harbor of the Starless Sea. Here he meets The Keeper and looks around.
He meets Maribel formally soon after, and they go to save Dorian. Zachary gets knocked out and tied up by Allegra, and she threatens his mother. Maribel saves him, and they take the unconscious Dorian down (his entrance test is one of each shape on the die). Zachary meets Rhyme, who is an Acolyte, and learns more about the Starless Sea. He is given a message to speak with the queen of the bees. Dorian awakes and tells Zachary another drunken tale. Zachary finds out that Maribel and the Keeper are planning something. He is given a third book: The Ballad of Simon and Eleanor. Understanding the meaning for the Queen Bee message.
Zachary goes down to a crypt where he finds a book and is given the task to find three things lost to time: a book, a sword, and a man. He must find the man. The book he found. The sword is in the Keepers office. He knows the man is Simon. Zachary goes back up, tells the kitchen he loves them and finds Dorian again. He and Dorian talk and go into the wardrobe. They find a party and Zachary dances until the world crashes around them and they have to flee. They find the Keeper and Allegra who tells them they don’t know why they are there. Allegra and Dorian fall to the Starless Sea. Zachary is sent on a quest with the sword, by The Keeper and Maribel, who survived. Zachary learns that Maribel has died and come back many times, he thinks she’s Fate. He has seen the picture of himself and Dorian, and follows Maribel down to the farther recesses of the Starless Sea.
Dorian is saved by Eleanore and he gives her Fortunes and Fables. He is led to the InnKeeper, who gives him a box that contains a heart, because he has a sword on his chest above his heart. Zachary is with Maribel and then is lost. He wanders until he finds Simon. He gives Simon The Ballad of Simon and Eleanor and puts Simon back into the story. He continues on to find a new part of his story but does not read it and instead of the six doors, he finds another one. He travels through the door to snowy plains where he meets Dorian who is dreaming and gives Dorian the sword. Dorian wakes up and The Moon arrives with the sword. She gives it to him, and he leaves to transverse nightmares and nothing he can believe. Zachary finds a frozen ice Maribel and tells her his story, asking her what next when she takes the key around his neck and burns it to his heart. Zachary finds another door and goes to the Starless Sea where he finally meets Dorian, who stabs him and kills him.
Once dead, Zachary moves across the sea to talk to the bees. They let him dance with Maribel one more time, and then the story ends. The Keeper and Rhyme escape through the door behind the painting of Zachary and Dorian. Dorian is crying on the shore, as the Starless Sea takes him.
We learn of Kat’s story. How Zachary disappeared and how she looked for him. How she was tracked and offered a job at the Collector’s Club. She declined and ended up deleting all her social media, wondering what if. She kept a notebook because all her texts, and photos, and emails with Zachary were deleted. She learns a lot, like how Simon was a part of the owls. And how she is not sure about anything, and that it can all be a metaphor, but Zachary’s mother is sure he’ll show up again. She has a key from when Time comes.
Dorian is saved by Eleanore who is going to save Simon too. He revives Zachary with the heart from the box. And Kat, who is in Canada gets a message that it is time. She heads to the location and finds paintings, as well as one of herself. And there is an Owl. Under the owl there is a door with three symbols on it: a crown, a heart, and a feather. She is contemplating opening the door when Maribel arrives to find The Keeper and Rhyme waiting for her to open the door to the Harbor of the Starless Sea.
What I Liked:
How does one write about dreams? I am not sure. I think that is what has me at such a loss to explain why I liked this book. I could go into characters but there wasn’t much for the characters. This book was about the experience and the way one experienced it, rather than the actual characters themselves. So I suppose, if you are going into this to get a very detailed and complex plot that is spelt out for your, you really aren’t. The complexity of the plot comes from the weaving of the stories and the way you have to question the details. This book is about the details and the symbols, which makes you look at the characters in a different light.
So I suppose I will have to start there.
Characters; Honestly, the characters on their own held little importance to me. Zachary as a person, Dorian as a person, Kat. I didn’t care. I cared more for their story than I did for them. They, however, were far more complex than that, I feel at least. What is Kat’s purpose, what is the story she will see next? Why were Zachary and Dorian led to the end that they got? There are so many questions I have for everyone, and there are all these connections, that link them together. Each and everyone is important to me, so why on their own they held little importance with the prose and the crafting of the metaphor, they meant the world.
The Bee, The Key, and the Sword; There is a lot to unpack here with these symbols. Other than the fact that they all represent specific people, they were layered in symbolism and meaning. Both of which I think I need to take a long time to really dive into. However the repetition of them really had me driven. The bee. The key. the sword. Over and over and over through the whole book, driving it home like a familiar melody that when you got the harmony, you understood how to listen to it too.
The Crown, The Heart, and the Feather; The harmony to the bee, the key, and the sword. These were there in the story, sprinkled in the lore, the stories, the way it was all wrapped together. Do I know what all of these mean either? No. Am I okay with that? Also no. It’s calling me back to the pages to dive deeper and to be enthralled again.
The Owl King; Who is the Owl King? What is the Owl King as a concept. Is it the reader? Those who visit the Starless Sea? I have so many questions on this pivotal character. Just like so many of the other symbols, I want to analyze this and really dive into who he is.
The Storyteller; Oh, this entire idea. Those who tell the stories, and those that read the stories, those that makes the stories. Who is the story teller? Who is the one who is ending this story? And am I okay with that? No.
Fate and The Moon; Are they both Mabel? Is Mabel only one? I am not sure, but the way that the two characters are so woven together, has me wishing for the best in everything.
What I Would Have Liked or Changed:
Wait can I read it again? Yes. Oh, then yes, nothing.
We all talked about our love and enchantment with this book. One other member actually wants to annotate the book too, which is amazing. Turns out I’m not the only one. Many questions we asked were about the themes, and we felt that another read through would be necessary to really pick the book apart.
Much love, all around.
Would be a six, is a six. Great book.
“A boy at the beginning of a story has no way of knowing that the story has begun.” – pg 13
“And so the son of the fortune-teller does not find his way to the Starless Sea.
Not yet.” – pg 13 (Do I need to explain why I love the ‘not yet?’ Look at my Wicked Themes, to get a better idea)
“Reading a book four time in one day is perfectly normal behavior.” – pg 28
“Everyone is a part of a story, what they want is to be part of something worth recording.” – pg 36
“‘Sorry, it’s so poetry today.’
‘So what ?’
‘Poetry. The weather. It’s like a poem. Where each word is more than one thing at once and everything’s a metaphor. The meaning condensed into rhythm and sound and the spaces between sentences. Its all intense and sharp, like the cold and the wind.” – pg 156
“What is the difference between a door and a cage? Between not yet and too late ?” – pg 290
“Strange, isn’t it? To love a book. When the words on the pages become so precious that they feel like part of your own history because they are.” – pg 298
“We are all stardust and stories.” – pg 373
“You open a door.
What happens next?” – pg 491
“And no story truly ends as long as it is told.” – pg 492