Book Review: "The Starless Sea"

Jan 14, 2020

Fans of author Erin Morgenstern who fell in love with her debut novel “The Night Circus” in 2011, have been eagerly awaiting a second novel. “The Starless Sea” was published in November 2019. Here, with a plug for both, is Barb Bretz with this month’s book review.

I'm an avid reader so when “The Night Circus”  shot to the top of my favorite book list five years ago it had serious competition. Set in 19th century London, the plot in 25 words or less is ...'Two conjurers embroiled in a decade-old challenge...train young magicians and pit them against each other in a duel of magic to the death.’

The arena is a mystical circus which appears in a random town, operates only during the night and disappears as quickly and quietly as it came.

Erin Morgenstern created such a spell-binding story, intriguing characters, seductive settings and enchanting experiences the book is literally addictive. Even after 387 pages I wanted MORE! 

Her descriptions of dinners, desserts and even the junk food at the circus are so delicious I read the paragraphs again for a second helping.

I reminisce about this first book in order to explain my hunger for the second. When “The Starless Sea”  came out, I couldn't wait to get my hands on it so I could review it for you. Now, I'm faced with the challenge of encouraging you to read both of these books while admitting, the first is still at the top of my list and justify why perhaps the second is not.

Both fit into a genre described as “phantasmagorical” which basically means “something that has a fantastic or deceptive appearance...like something appearing in a dream or created by the imagination.”

This is not a genre into which I dive very often. My main justification, for perhaps not enjoying this second book, could be that for the last three years I've immersed myself in many non-fiction books and memoirs grounded in truth, facts and investigative journalism. I had real difficulty suspending disbelief and just letting my imagination roam through the mysterious passageways and labyrinths of an underground world with this whole new cast of characters. 

The settings and story are full of symbols and metaphors, the meanings of which seem purposefully vague and left open to the interpretation of the reader. This technique can be very annoying to some. Prior to reading it, I recommended it to my book group and am now debating how it will be received. I look forward to a January 16th author presentation at King's English in Salt Lake City hoping her insights give me the confidence to lead an in-depth discussion.

“The Starless Sea” is available at our public libraries.