I began The Starless Sea with high hopes. My friend, author and poet Diana Dinverno, had raved about Morgenstern’s first book, The Night Circus. Nine months into the pandemic, I needed to escape to another world. Remembering Diana’s enthusiasm, I figured The Starless Sea would be a good bet.

Morgenstern’s world of The Starless Sea is indeed luminous, strange, mysterious. A grad student sets out to solve the mystery of how one of his childhood experiences has shown up in a book he was given to read. As sure as the tide, evil forces are at work. Yesterday’s evil force might be today’s benevolent one and then back again.

I was enthralled to be in a world where the protagonist, “Untangled himself from vines blossoming with story-filled flowers [as…] he has walked through puddles of ink and left footprints that formed stories in his wake…”   He eats a candy and as it dissolves on his tongue he experiences the words. and only the words .of a story unfolding in his mind. Then it’s gone, dissolving just like the sourball in his mouth. Morgenstern’s imagination churns at white-cap speed.

Have you sensed the “but” has now arrived? All the deep sea phosphorescence, unrequited and abandoned love and hairsbreadth escapes overtook the storyline so much so that I got lost in the book. Lost, not to well-plotted escapism, but simply lost in the tangled thicket of marvelous words strung together to create marvelous head pictures. There is a plot here but I grew tired trying to tease it from the surrounding landscape.

Usually, if I can’t recommend a book, I pass on reviewing it. Why be negative? Why diss a fellow author or darken her day? Give The Starless Sea a chance and see how it hits you.  Me? I’m going to pick up The Night Circus. Not necessarily because I trust its author, but because years after Diana told me about it, I still remember how she could barely contain her excitement while describing it to me.


  1. Elizabeth Morley

    This was my review of the book on Goodreads:
    I loved The Night Circus and was looking forward to this book being just as good. Sadly, I was very disappointed. Although the story has a good concept, it was over-done. There was so much walking through unknown, dark caverns and twists and turns in the landscape, I literally was exhausted just trying to keep up. I did finish the book, but really had to push myself to not give up on it.

    • Debra Darvick

      HI Liz,

      That pretty much nails it for me, too. I LOVED her phrases and her imaginings and I finished
      the book as well. Like you I got kind of lost in the caverns and the plot.

  2. Laurie

    Hi Debra, I don’t know about The Starless Sea. It certainly sounds interesting, as per your review. But I did read The Night Circus a few years back, and I absolutely LOVED it. I read it because my daughter in law told me that it was her favorite book, and I was curious. Please read it and tell me what you think. As for The Starless Sea, perhaps one day I will get to it. I have a pile of books on my bookshelf that I haven’t tackled yet.

    • Debra Darvick

      I find I’m choosing books by content less than author. At least
      when it comes to novelists. That a being said Anne Patchett is
      always good bet. Madeline l’Engle has written some beautiful
      memoirs and essay collections. Geraldine Brooks, too, is wonderful
      although I thought People of the Book wasn’t as good as some others.

  3. Terry Landa

    Night Circus was a wonderful read. My book club members all loved it and still talk about it. I keep hearing the similar review of the Starless Sea. Your description of it shows me in your words why it will be passed by me.

    Tell me an author you love to read over and over again and get excited about each new book.

    • Debra Darvick

      HI Terry,
      Read my comment to Laurie on this same topic — authors I turn to no matter what.
      I tend to be eclectic in my choices. Although Laurie King does NOT disappoint.
      From her home page: Laurie King is the New York Times bestselling author of 27
      novels and other works, including the Mary Russell-Sherlock Holmes stories.
      She is probably the only writer to have both an Edgar and an honorary doctorate in theology.
      Start at the beginning and keep going. Now that you have me thinking of her, I have
      to check out her latest books. Thank you!

  4. Kevin VanDette

    Debra – Posting this to test the ability to subscribe to receive notifications of responses to my comments.

    • Debra Darvick

      Looks like the notification and subscriptions works!


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