Book Review – The Starless Sea

As part of The Olympic Games readathon, I picked Team Athena, which included a prompt of reading the longest book on your TBR. As I’ve since worked out, this actually wasn’t the longest book – I made a mistake – but was the longest book I had in my mental ‘read immediately’ pile. So, I’m still giving myself the points.

I’ve never read anything by Erin Morgenstern prior to this, but was captivated by the idea when it was published, and also by the beautiful cover. I have a soft spot for bumble bees, and between the beautiful cover and adorable title, I decided this book as a must for me. On reflection, I should have maybe tried out The Night Circus first.

The reason I say maybe I should have read a previous book that this was all just very… much. It wound around itself, sometimes huge paragraphs on tiny details, sometimes facts being assumed rather than given. The tale being woven is certainly beautifully told, with an almost lyrical use of language that is easy to get lost in. Some of the characters are people you wish to engage with, and want to immediately know more about.

The book is told from multiple perspectives, with a large portion of the book alternating between the lead character and extracts from other books from within The Starless Sea universe. Some of these little interludes were adorable and endearing to a point you would have been happy to read more of those rather than the main story. This technique was clever and effective, especially as things started to click in together, which I won’t go into more of here for fear of spoilers. That said, as the book progressed, this use of multiple perspectives becomes more erratic, and the directions you’re being pulled in become more in number and more in curiosity – and not in a good way. Which leads me on to the less complimentary side of my review.

If I hadn’t ‘had’ to read this for my reading challenge, I would not have finished it. Where it was supposed to be somewhat eclectic in magic, it was just odd a lot of the time, and some things went very much unexplained. The ending especially was frustrating, as it felt both drawn out and abruptly stopped. There was also, in my opinion, an element of trying hard to be too clever; to leave things too open for interpretation that it didn’t tie up loose ends, and I find books like that highly frustrating.

As I’ve mentioned recently, I’ve discovered this year how much I enjoy reading fantasy, but this doesn’t sadly help here. While there is certainly credit to be given, there is also critic to be had, and no matter how much I wanted to get lost in this fantastical place, no matter how dreamlike the location sounded, I just couldn’t. For a fantasy to work, there needs to be some baseline for normal in that universe, and with that lacking, it was hard to get lost in.

The book was beautiful, but it was also very dull. I both wanted to know what happened next, and couldn’t care less. Overall, it was a huge disappointment, because I really wanted to love it. It was one of my most anticipated reads for this year, so for it to fall flat like this has given me book grief of another kind. I have The Night Circus on my book shelf, and now I really don’t know whether I can be bothered to even try and read it.

I know that some people simply just don’t get on with books or writing styles, but it’s a real disappointment that for me this includes The Starless Sea.


  1. I remember the ladies from OwlCrate discussing this on IG Live and saying that it was a very wordy, poetic style. Thought they loved it.

    I have to be in the mood for that type of reading, so it made me hold off from placing it high on my TBR.


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