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BOOK REVIEW:

The Starless Sea

In 2011, Erin Morgenstern made an unforgettable impression on readers with her debut novel, The Night Circus, which is about a challenge between two ancient beings. Each selects an apprentice, whom they then raise and train to compete. The arena for the competition is the wondrous Night Circus, where each apprentice creates and enhances the shows and performances using magic. As the competition proceeds, something unexpected happens: the apprentices fall in love, but what neither of them knows is at the end of this challenge, there can be only one survivor.

The Night Circus became an almost instant classic and readers have been anxiously waiting for Morgenstern’s next novel. And now, with The Starless Sea, that wait is over.

Zachary Ezra Rawlins is a graduate student in Vermont pursuing his Master’s Degree in Emerging Media Studies. While taking a break from the videogames that regularly dominate his personal and research time, he finds a book misshelved in the university library. It is an old book. It is a slim volume, with a faded burgundy cover and the final remaining remnants of gold imprinting on the spine and cover. When Zachary reads this book, he finds within its pages an event from his childhood, something that happened that he has never forgotten, and yet, has never told anyone else about it. Determined to discover how his story was included in a book that is clearly older than he is, Zachary begins a journey that will lead him to an exclusive literary themed masquerade ball in New York City; secret societies tucked away in quiet neighborhoods; and a labyrinthine library buried deep within the earth, where guardians protect the stories that we all know and love.

In The Starless Sea, Morgenstern illustrates again that she is a masterful fantasy storyteller. The plot is set in a world very much like our own, but just one or two steps away, where magic is real, a doorway doesn’t always lead where you expect it to, and two people may fall in love over a shared story. It is a story as vast as the eponymous ocean and as intimate as lovers being torn apart because their friends/families do not sanction the union. There are a great many threads of which the reader must keep track, but Morgenstern weaves them together expertly into a beautiful narrative tapestry. Woven throughout that tapestry are a number of literary references and allusions. It may not be possible for anyone other than Morgenstern herself to catch them all. Missing them will not diminish the enjoyment of the story she is telling, but, for those who do recognize them and the novels being referenced, it will create an even stronger feeling of connection between the reader, the characters within the story and the story being read.

Where Morgenstern truly shines is her ability to describe both the fantastic and mundane in such exquisite, extraordinary detail that the reader feels themselves transported to her locations. This was true of The Night Circus, where one could almost smell the popcorn and caramel apples as they followed characters winding their ways among the various tents. It is even more apparent in The Starless Sea, where the book nearly radiates the smells of old paper, worn leather, burning candles and, oddly enough, honey, all accompanied by the buzzing of ever present bees.

The Starless Sea is a love letter to stories and storytelling, to the ways that stories affect us upon hearing and/or reading them, and the ways we incorporate ourselves in the stories that we tell and share.

This book is available on e-Media.

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