... extravagantly imaginative ... Morgenstern’s major plot is the stuff of a bibliophile’s dreams, but she layers the narrative with snippets of fables and fairy tales, pieces in a meta-puzzle box that you may never figure out. Authorial flourishes and literary Easter eggs abound, allusions to illusions. There are nods to Tolkien and Sendak, Susanna Clarke and Lev Grossman, Grimm and Gaiman. The intricate world-building is nothing short of fabulous, the prose lush and filigreed. Still, it’s probably no accident that Patience and Fortitude, the lions at the entrance of the New York Public Library, make a cameo in the 500-page tale. Morgenstern knows every whichaway around story and myth, but you may well get lost in The Starless Sea. Bon voyage!
Erin Morgenstern’s new novel The Starless Sea is a beautifully wrought and many-layered tale; a riveting, rollicking, and complex quest for the very heart of story. For those who loved the magical depths and wondrous spaces of Morgenstern’s debut The Night Circus (2011), there is much here in her second novel to entertain and enthrall ... a sometimes frustrating, but often engrossing epic narrative focused on love, magic, and the essential importance of stories to human survival. We are our stories and The Starless Sea is a glorious attempt at reminding us of this ... the excitement and the desire to open a new book and be swallowed whole by story. And that’s what Morgenstern accomplishes with this novel—a reawakening of the desire to be engulfed by story and a reminder as to how story shapes who we are, how we love, and how we live in the world.
... a sprawling, ambitious spell of a story ... Thoughtful, slightly awkward Zachary makes a perfect every-reader, with his desire to take part in stories and his sympathetic nostalgia for the Choose Your Own Adventure novels. Morgenstern delivers more of the lush, lavish prose passages that made readers fall in love with The Night Circus, creating elaborate scenes that include a sprawling dollhouse landscape, a perpetual party set in a pocket universe outside time and an ocean made of honey. In a narrative of enormous scope and scale, Morgenstern takes slow, painstaking care in assembling the story's components behind fairy tale sleight-of-hand. Readers should enter her world prepared to spend a large portion of the experience combing for clues in short, metafictive fables written in a romantic, whimsical style reminiscent of the Flax-Golden Tales on the author's website. While the plot takes its time coming together, the journey is nothing short of magical, like a fantastical, delirious dream that makes awakening back to reality a disappointment. Set aside a few quiet hours to devour this opulent feast.
Paralleling Susan Orlean’s The Library Book, a nonfiction ode to books, libraries and librarians, The Starless Sea is a fictional journey dedicated to stories and storytelling. Both are lively, inventive titles chock-full of book-centric quotes. This hefty novel requires imaginary leaps and careful attention to stories and characters that wind their way in many different directions, but Morgenstern—now proving not once, but twice, what an adept literary juggler she is—manages to weave a multitude of strands together into one mighty, magical tale.
Morgenstern nests a glittering trove of meta-narratives, myths, folkloric fables within a main storyline about a hero’s quest ... Morgenstern’s wry sense of humor and clever writing light the way through the maze ... As Zachary puts it, reading a novel is like 'playing a game where all the choices have been made for you ahead of time by someone who is much better at this particular game.' Erin Morgenstern, for example, is very, very good at it.
... a book about people who love stories, for people who love stories ... has it all, and the well-read will be pleased to pick up these literary Easter eggs along the way ... Morgenstern has created the ultimate ode to storytelling ... Stories are layered upon stories, unfolding through the book like an exquisitely formed flower that provides readers with moments of satisfaction when it finally reaches full bloom ... Morgenstern beautifully crafts an imaginary world with such vivid, delicate detail that you can’t help but feel like it truly could exist. It’s a realm that lets the mind wander, question and carry forward, often leaving the reader feeling that finishing the book will be akin to achieving one’s own hero’s quest.
It is, not to put too fine a point on it, wonderful ... The Starless Sea is the most joyous reading experience I have had in recent memory. Morgenstern’s prose is sure, but gentle, baroque in its structure but utterly human in its scale. The organization of the book — threading fairy tales, scenes from other stories, fables and other narratives through Zachary’s story — is itself a master-class in plotting and prestidigitation (the two are often the same thing), and will result in frequent gasps of surprise and admiration as elements come surprisingly, inevitably, together. The Starless Sea is an unabashedly romantic novel about the love of stories, the joy they bring to our lives, the sorrows they carry, and the essential quality of the narratives which surround us. To read it is to be plunged into a warm, honeyed bath of words and ideas, the familiar embrace not just of a good story, but of all good stories.
... a curious, disappointing and, above all, mundane affair that, for all its talk of magical territories, fantastic occurrences, strange mutations and obscure disruptions, is peculiarly devoid of atmosphere, tension and mystery. Almost all of this blandness can be attributed to Morgenstern’s prose, which suffers from a predilection for cliché, irritating antiquities and overemphasis ... Writing of this kind prevents the reader from feeling such change, and dispels the fantasy it tries so awkwardly to generate.
... a rich tapestry of love and loss, longing and joy, adventure and regret ... As all good stories do, The Starless Sea immerses the reader in romance and adventure before finally arriving at a heart-warming, enchanting ending ... Readers who enjoy rich, luscious prose will sink into The Starless Sea like a luxurious bubble bath, delighting all of their senses. And once they finish it, they will find it difficult to resist the temptation to immediately re-read it so that they can see all the pieces of its puzzle come together.
... a book that wants to make you feel like you're playing a game — specifically a game like Myst, with puzzles, history, mystery. While it doesn't entirely succeed on that front, it did succeed in making me feel like I was a child falling into a story again — which is, as the book establishes early on, very close to the same thing ... Morgenstern does build a lovely, haunting, suggestive mythography, but it ends up competing with her narrative in ways that didn't quite work for me ... What did work for me, deeply and wholesomely and movingly, was the whole affect of the book, its warmth, its helpless love of storytelling and beautiful, polished fables. It's a book that's a pleasure to dwell in, a delicious experience to dip in and out of; I took to only reading it before bed, because it felt built of pre-dream sweetness, of that familiar, childhood longing for adventures that feel like home. When I finished it, I was uncertain of my thoughts about the whole; the next night, when I realized there was nothing left of it to read, I felt lost and sad. Take your time with it, as you would an expensive cocktail or a warm, honeyed bread. It's a lot bigger from the inside.
an abstruse series of fragmented fables, interspersed with the saga of a present-day grad student who is a voracious reader and connoisseur of retro cocktails. All three of Zachary Ezra Rawlins’s names march forth at the outset of every chapter in which he is featured, in case one forgets he is the hero. (One does not forget) ... Sound thrilling? It certainly might be, but it isn’t ... Morgenstern’s attempt to mingle a dozen or so narratives into an intertwined myth is strangely devoid of tension for a book in which a nameless woman’s tongue is cut out on Page 10. We flit from story to story like bees — bees, keys, swords, crowns and hearts dance a heady symbolic gavotte throughout — never knowing where we might land, or who will turn out to really be who, or if the pirate is a real pirate or a metaphor, or whether any of it has a point ... As a story about stories, Morgenstern’s latest contains the seeds of its own destruction: It abandons people in favor of theme ... Every relationship is unearned or uncomplicated, or based on untold back stories ... The lack of distinct character voice seems due to the fact it is unabashed fan fiction, but not a homage to any particular individual ... You can taste the potions and the sidecars. But a cigar is never just a cigar, and it’s impossible to settle in without being bludgeoned by mystique ... flounders as a novel. As an ode to an aesthetic, however, it is marvelous ... for those swept away by the romance of its imagery, The Starless Sea will provide hours of honey-drenched bliss. Or at the very least, inspiration for a new tattoo, or a vision board for their impending destination wedding.
... far more ambitious in scope, but every bit as absorbing as its predecessor ... a dense read that weaves Zachary’s story with an array of seemingly disparate fairytales, fables, memories, and journal entries. As the book continues it becomes clear that the texts are linked, and gradually a single powerful narrative emerges. An ode to reading, to stories, to books, to memory, to secrets, missed opportunities, second chances, fate, love, and hope, The Starless Sea is a beautiful tale that rewards patient readers with a magical world from which they’ll emerge, blinking, into the light.
Although the core of the novel is a simple story about a young man who wants to know his fate, these other strands make such a complex tapestry that the images blur and warp...Each image is assuredly beautiful ... There is no logic that binds these lovely set piece tableaux. Nobody explains why the Starless Sea is honey, or how a honey sea isn’t full of dead flies. The novel reads like panel after panel of mythic illustrations: it expects a certain acceptance of unlikely images, and that’s hardly an unfamiliar mode of thought ... This approach can be infuriating, but usually when a well written book is infuriating, it’s because the story is yanking at a convention so deep-seated it seems fundamental to the genre. I think The Starless Sea does just that ... rejects older stories: it makes its own. Its magic is based in the New York Public Library, in glittering hotels, and the beautiful blatant kitsch of a professional fortune teller’s house. Rather than a traditional fantasy novel, this is an artificial myth in its own right, soldered together from the girders of skyscrapers – a myth from and for the US, rather than inherited from older nations. Like any myth, it refuses to decode its own symbols. A reader might find this deliberate vagueness either uplifting or maddening, but the novel’s scope and ambition are undeniable.
If you loved The Night Circus, you will likely love The Starless Sea provided the shallow characterization of the non-central romantic relationship doesn’t bother you within the grander scheme of things ... a triumph in magical storytelling ... requires faith, patience, and maybe a glass of wine ... If the prospect of a non-linear narrative sounds torturous, then you are not The Starless Sea’s intended audience. I loved it, but I also don’t mind eagerly trying to connect disparate threads while the story enfolds ... a book to be savored and admired. Morgenstern is a master at third person present tense while constructing sentences to inspire wonderment and anticipation. I feel awkward describing her expertise because my poor attempts to praise it pale in comparison to the text ... My primary annoyance with The Starless Sea is the undeveloped and shallow characterization of the romantic relationship ... Morgenstern has a way of words so that you can’t help but feel everything, even if there’s no basis for it ... Rather than constructing a romantic relationship centered on shared experiences and companionship, the love story flourishes in insta-attraction and solitary longing for each other. It’s as though they’re fated lovers because the story necessitates it, not because the book puts any legwork into building up the foundation beneath the emotion and well-crafted prose ... On one hand, I firmly believe that Erin Morgenstern’s storytelling is unparalleled and I can’t think of another author with more intricate plotting or ambitious narrative structure...On the other hand, I can’t abide a half-baked romantic subplot that constantly poked little thorns of ire.
In Erin Morgenstern’s new novel... stories are everything ... Unfortunately, Morgenstern’s focus on form over function saps The Starless Sea from ever finding any of the weight behind its words it so desperately craves, leaving little more than a pretty facade ... Zachary Ezra Rawlins doesn’t so much go on an adventure as have an adventure affected onto him ... Worse still, the novel flits from this main yarn to a multitude of interlocking stories, either from Zachary’s book or elsewhere, sometimes never to return. This leaves little time for us to settle in with any of the characters, who come across more as a collection of tropes rather than fully formed realizations ... The Starless Sea attempts to lean into...fabulistic nature in place of nuance, hoping the reader will bridge the gap it creates, while not providing anything more of substance. This flaw affects The Starless Sea from the big-picture concerns of plot and character down to the minutiae of sentences. It’s a slog to read ... As a young writer, I once wondered if beauty and aesthetic were enough to make a compelling work; in The Starless Sea, I have found my answer. The Starless Sea is sort of a novelization of a Tumblr aesthetic board, and if descriptions of fancy cocktails, the coziest reading nooks imaginable, and fables are your thing, you’ll find plenty on offer here to keep you satisfied. It’s just when you go looking for something of more substance that the facade crumbles.
Heavy with symbolism, loaded with metaphor and drowned in backstories for many characters (who do hold their own, so that helps), the plot of the novel is fairly obtuse for the first 100 pages or so, beautiful though it may be ... there are times it does indeed take some searching to find the plot ... Unfortunately the gorgeous little details can feel a bit precious at times. Character’s unique cocktails, their cutesy little quirks of bunny ears, edible stories, and the constant cats wandering through the narrative can be a little twee at times because while they are all lovely details to the mis en scene, they’re not really moving anything forward in terms of plot ... often reads like a high-end goth-hipster pastiche, which can obviously be quite divisive ... a love story, an epic love letter to the art of storytelling and to the power of stories. It’s a complex ode to unfamiliar mythic narratives that spills out in many directions ... Towards the end the threads come together beautifully so, with all the rising emotion and hope and grandeur a reader could want.
The effort of reading The Starless Sea is worthwhile (for the most part) if, like me, you enjoy deciphering narrative clues, weaving together story threads, and nodding at metatextual nuggets ... The novel is ambitious in a way that takes it well beyond the scope of The Night Circus (and possibly the expectations or desires of many fantasy readers). If you want someone to tell you a straightforward story, this novel is not going to deliver. And the narrative ambition of the text deserves to be recognized and rewarded. It also engages in some of my favorite metatextual moves: I love a story that’s about telling a story, that’s aware of its own status as narrative, and where the characters recognize their own liminal reality ... Reaching the end of a narrative requires ending the story, and one of the confusing things about The Starless Sea is that the only story that ends is the story of the Starless Sea. At the novel’s conclusion, the characters’ stories are just beginning. But I have to concede that ending with a resurrection, a rebirth, a new beginning, may be the only option if the nature of story is change. Here, again, I turn to the ambitious aims of the novel: it may not have given me all that I wanted, but it did give me something I appreciate.
... not simply a quest narrative–it’s also a meta-examination of stories that demands the reader’s patience–and then rewards it ... Morgenstern’s elegant, poetic prose keeps the pages turning as she begins to draw connections within a web of tales that reads like an ode to stories, themselves, and celebrates the distinct pleasure that comes from engaging with a text.
Erin Morgenstern’s second novel is an achingly beautiful love letter to stories and their power ... The decision to alternate the chapters with the short stories made the book genuinely interesting to read. While it initially slowed the pace, as the links across the stories become more overt, it was a genuine delight to read them. Additionally, each story was quite lovely in its own right so with that in mind, the slow pace actually served to make me savour the delicacy of the writing and reflect upon the contents of each short story rather than simply rush back into the primary narrative. Moreover, the overlapping stories have themes in common in addition to ultimately contributing to the resolution and explanation of the story, creating a rich tapestry that builds to a crescendo that truly augments the denouement of The Starless Sea ... The Starless Sea is a literary triumph; a beautiful story told in the most delicate of ways.
The Starless Sea continues in the vein of the atmosphere begun by The Night Circus, though I must report it is—tragically—a step down from that book’s lofty heights ... eventually all of that sweetness, all of that magic-making, all of that worldbuilding—it leads to no culmination, no point, and all the characters come across as underdeveloped. The Starless Sea is all frosting and a bit of cake, which, for some readers, will feel like paradise ... In spite of the shallow characterization and the gradual-unto-glacier pace, the all-frosting-no-cake atmosphere, the quality of the writing is undeniable, the sense of magic real, and altogether it ekes out a low-level recommendation.
Like any story, The Starless Sea has a beginning and an ending. It also has a middle – a lot of middle. Morgenstern crams about a billion ideas – including but not limited to game design, folk tales, cocktails, and bees – into the endless-feeling middle. Some of them open up her tale in interesting ways; some don’t live up to their promises. She takes a big, admirable swing but doesn’t completely connect. Still, it’s a book full of beautiful moments, even if they don’t all work in concert.
... a magnificent quest, a sense of unfolding adventure and danger, gold-wrought fantasy, and endless provocation on what storytelling really means ... In the end, Morgenstern proves wrong one of her villains, who proclaims that a story is like an egg; break it, and it’s lost. Her stories flow together as they flow forward and will enthrall a wide range of readers. Highly recommended.
Morgenstern’s new fantasy epic is a puzzlebox of a book, full of meta-narratives and small folkloric tales that will delight readers ... Morgenstern...uses poetic, honey-like prose to tell a story that plays with the very concept of what we expect and want from our stories; she also asks questions about accessibility, and what it truly means to guard something as precious as the library. She trusts her readers to follow along and speculate, wonder, and make leaps themselves as she dives into tales of pirates, book burnings, and men lost in time, giving the book a mythic quality that will stick with readers long after they put it down.
In a high-wire feat of metatextual derring-do, Morgenstern weaves Zachary's adventure into a stunning array of linked fables, myths, and origin stories...Clocking in at more than 500 pages, the novel requires patience as Morgenstern puts all the pieces in place, but it is exquisitely pleasurable to watch the gears of this epic fantasy turn once they're set in motion. As in The Night Circus, Morgenstern is at her best when she imagines worlds and rooms and parties in vivid detail ... This novel is a love letter to readers as much as an invitation: Come and see how much magic is left in the world. Fans of Neil Gaiman and V.E. Schwab, Kelly Link and Susanna Clarke will want to heed the call. An ambitious and bewitching gem of a book with mystery and passion inscribed on every page.
Built from fables, myths, and fairy tales, Morgenstern’s long-awaited second fantastical novel...delves into a vast subterranean library ... This love letter to bibliophiles is dreamlike and uncanny, grounded in deeply felt emotion, and absolutely thrilling.