Erin Morgenstern’s second novel cannot specifically be defined as one genre. The Starless Sea is many things: a mystery, an adventure, a multi-faceted love story, and above all, a world within a world. Each vignette from various books brings you closer to the characters, who are less random and more real than you originally think.
When Zachary Ezra Rawlins finds a book with a piece of his childhood written exactly as he remembers it in the campus library, he’s stunned. He re-reads the collection of short stories over and over, but nothing of his own story comes up. Sweet Sorrows enthralls Zachary, compelling him to take the book with him everywhere, including a gathering with fellow students.
Finding Sweet Sorrows is the beginning to finding the Starless Sea, a place that Zachary has only ever heard of. He’s the son of a fortune teller, a graduate student studying video game theory, and a book lover. An avid reader, Zachary reads more than he seems to play video games.
As he journeys outside the comfort of his dorm room, the quest to finding the Starless Sea presents a mysterious atmosphere, and the sense that not everything is as it seems, and there’s there something much larger at stake.
Zachary teams up with the pink-haired Mirabel, as well as the handsome storytelling Dorian. Both Mirabel and Dorian are more complex than they seem, with Zachary along for the adventure.
While some more professional reviewers did not like The Starless Sea, I quickly found myself loving it. I enjoy reading books within a book, stories within a story. Novels like Cornelia Funke’s Inkheart trilogy woke something up in me, an almost child-like wonder for reading and fantastical worlds.
The Starless Sea does the very same thing for me, as a reader and a writer.
One thing in particular that I thought was smart was how Zachary’s sexuality was brought up. It’s made apparent early on that he’s gay, but it’s his personality and his character that is at the forefront, not who he finds attractive.
I really enjoy this approach, because it’s so different from the books I’m used to reading when it comes to gay fiction. With the exception of books like The Starless Sea and John Boyne’s The Heart’s Invisible Furies, most of the books I read featuring queer characters bring their sexuality to the forefront.
Zachary is thrust into a world beneath the world beneath the world beneath the world, where he must continue his search for a door into the Starless Sea, with Dorian and Mirabel as his guides.
If you love books about books, and secret worlds within a modern setting, The Starless Sea is for you.