The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern

I remember reading The Night Circus fondly. I gave it a high rating and review. Some years later, I realized I had no memory of the plot or the characters other than that it was about a love story. That is not unusual because I’ve read hundreds of novels in my life so I often forget when I’ve even read a book. Still, Night Circus couldn’t have been that good if I forgot that much of it. As a result, I went into reading this book cautiously optimistic.

I think there are elements in The Starless Sea which are polarizing overall. I think most readers will either love it or they won’t. I wish I could say I liked this a lot, but I came away a bit disappointed.

The novel is divided in parts. Perspectives and story lines changed between chapters. This is a bit disorienting at first especially since I did not know what was going on. Even when things started coming together slowly, the book still felt a bit aimless overall. As a result, I was not very absorbed by this book. I managed to read it in two sittings mostly out of a desire to finish the book before returning it to the library. While things did happen and there was the occasional small conflict or mystery, I just felt the book itself did not lead anywhere substantive. It did not have a cohesive plot. Worse of all, I found the characters very poorly developed. I actually liked Zach the protagonist and a number of the characters. I wanted to know more about them, but it never went deeply into their motivations or stories. I even felt Zach became less developed over the course of the novel. At the beginning, I was with him as I was with Alice in Alice in the Wonderland. By the end, I did not understand what he or any of these people were doing anymore. There is even a love story that comes almost out of nowhere. I did not really know much about Zach’s love interest. All of a sudden, they were declaring feelings for each other which I did not see coming. I preferred the other romantic relationships in the book but again, they were only glossed over.

In the past, when I had problems following the book’s direction and characters, I wondered if it’s because I was not paying enough attention or reading it too quickly. However, after I read this book, I found a couple of reviews on Good Reads which expressed the same things on the lack of development and plot.

I will end on positive notes. The book is well written in terms of its world building. It’s a love letter to myths and storytelling. I would have been fine with Zach spending most of the novel in his beautiful, magical hotel room. Those moments in the book felt lush, cozy, and immersive. While the characters were undeveloped for me, I do not think everyone would have a problem with it. The characters had a lot of potential. I do not dislike the book and I am glad I read it.

I reread my review of the Night Circus after reading this book and even though I remember very few details from it, it sounds like I enjoyed the relationships more. The experience of reading that book seemed more enjoyable too. I do think Morgenstern is a good storyteller so I will read another of her books.

Read November 2-3, 2020.

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