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 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.
Thank you very much to Penguin Australia for providing a copy of this novel in exchange for an honest review.
A boy at the beginning of the story has no way of knowing that the story has begun.
Erin Morgenstern’s first novel in eight years is a sublime love letter to books and stories and readers. The Starless Sea is a delightfully complex novel, but whimsical and haunting too, in ways that only Morgernstern can successfully pull off. I guarantee that with every reread, there will be something new to learn from this book and its spectacular plot and loveable characters.
Zachary Ezra Rawlins is a gaming student working on his thesis about gender and narrative in modern gaming. He’s a Ravenclaw and a Pisces, he reads far too many books for his own good, he’s a semi-hermit, and he’s the type of person who checks for the hidden, mystical world of Narnia if he ever comes across a wardrobe. Basically, he’s a man after my own heart. And when Zachary stumbles upon an authorless book that features a strange moment from his childhood, he’s unwittingly caught up in a dangerous quest of myth and magic, a quest that will lead him to a secret library hidden far beneath the earth.
Morgenstern’s prose is unlike any author’s I’ve come across before. Her words are imbued with imagination and wonder, and leave the reader breathless, hanging onto the edge of their seat, desperate for the next chapter and the next. The Starless Sea follows Zachary’s journey, mixed in with multiple stories and narratives from books and other character’s lives — stories within a story — and it’s up to the reader to try and piece all these diverse stories together. That’s part of what makes this novel such a fun read, too: trying to work out where all these plot points fit with each other, and yelling in triumph when you guess correctly.
You open a door.
What happens next?
I’m going to find out.
The characters of this novel truly shine and make the story that much more captivating. I think it’s safe to say that Zachary Ezra Rawlins is now one of my all-time favourite characters. Reading about a boy who has anxiety and who spends more time in fictional worlds than he does the real world go out on an epic adventure and become the hero of the story deeply touched me. The Starless Sea features a myriad of characters and despite their suspicious or unknown intentions, you can’t help but root for all of them — Kat, the best friend we all wish we had; Mirabel, the pink-haired badass; and Allegra, the frightening villain in the white fur coat. Then, of course, there’s the enigmatic Dorian.
There are many love stories to be found in The Starless Sea and Zachary’s and Dorian’s is one of the most beautiful. Dorian is originally a mysterious character: Zachary isn’t sure what to make of this man who all but kidnaps him and seems knows more about Zachary than Zachary does himself. But there is an instant attraction between the two men, and eventually trust and friendship and even love. Zachary comes to rely heavily on Dorian, who also finds himself at the heart of this strange journey, and story, they’ve been placed on.
I quickly want to mention how validating it is to have a gay main character, who even emphatically states his sexuality in the text, in a mainstream fantasy novel. I’m so incredibly thankful to the publishers that take chances on queer works. I also think it would be remiss of me not to mention the fabulous callbacks to literary giants like Donna Tartt, Sarah Waters and Sappho.
“Strange, isn’t it? To love a book. When the words on the page become so precious that they feel like part of your own history because they are.”
The Starless Sea is a book about Fate and Time, about the moon and the sun, and about people falling in love and people falling out of time. This book is about pirates and painters, about cats that might be able to talk, about monarchical owls and bees looking for the hero of this story. But most of all, this book will remind people why they fell in love with reading in the first place. As Morgenstern says, “We are all stardust and stories.”
About the author
Erin Morgenstern is the author of The Night Circus, a number-one national best seller that has been sold around the world and translated into thirty-seven languages. She has a degree in theatre from Smith College and lives in Massachusetts.
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