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.