Book Review: “The Starless Sea”

If Erin Morgenstern is known for anything, it’s for taking novels and creating aesthetically pleasing imagination factories—worlds with mysterious circuses and grand love affairs and beautiful prose. She is perhaps best known for her novel “The Night Circus” for these reasons. But, her newest novel, “The Starless Sea,” takes a somewhat different approach. It is at it’s core cemented in magical realism, and switches perspective between a reality we as readers are familiar with, and a twisted and magical one where nothing is ever as it seems.

I am a huge fan of magical realism, and also of Morgenstern. I was excited to read this novel. My expectations were met in some areas, but the story fell short of them in others. To start off, the writing in itself delivers. Morgenstern is a master at crafting words, and I was stunned at the beauty of some of the sentences I read. She has a genuine power to create brand new and original sub-plots, stories within stories, that somehow feel like myth. There is also some amazing queer representation in this book. The main character, Zachary Rawlins, is gay and in the end (spoiler), he and his boyfriend get the happy ending they deserve. I have read very few books with a queer person filling the central role, and for that I commend Morgenstern.

One aspect of this novel that I felt didn’t quite live up to my hopes was the character development. While Zachary is an interesting character to start, he felt kind of boring by the end. He remained rather static and continued to do predictable things throughout the entire storyline. I expected more from a main character.

The role I was really sad to see cast to the side, though was the main female lead, Mirabel. She is the immortal representation of Fate, and right from the start she intrigued me the most. While I think Morgenstern had intentions of writing her as a main character, she felt very much like a minor one because she was not developed to her full potential. Mirabel had a lot to offer, but the author left her alone after a certain point. She felt simply unfinished.

Overall, this novel was very good, and served as a much needed break from the books I have to read for my English major. It’s certainly a wild ride into the depths of imagination, which while complicated, felt like a breath of fresh air. I would recommend this book to anyone, but with the warning that you might finish it with a feeling like you lost something or someone you never got the proper chance to know in the first place.