Review: The Starless Sea

Far beneath the surface of the earth, hidden from the sun and the moon, upon the shores of the Starless Sea, there is a labyrinthine collection of tunnels and rooms filled with stories. Stories written in books and sealed in jars and painted on walls. Odes inscribed onto skin and pressed into rose petals. Tales laid in tiles upon the floors, bits of plot worn away by passing feet. Legends carved in crystal and hung from chandeliers. Stories catalogued and cared for and revered. Old stories preserved while new stories spring up around them.

The Starless Sea is an unfortunate sort of book.

On one hand, the prose is beautiful. There are some really wonderful passages and smaller stories that really sing on the pages. On top of that, there’s a lot of delightful visuals described from the book. Often times, I don’t really picture what’s going on in a lot of stories, I more… absorb them. But this, this really needs and thrives on the visuals. Especially leaning on the sights and smells of books and libraries and doors, it’s the sort of book a physical book lover (not a lover of stories, one of the actual physical books themselves) could really get into.

On the other hand… even after reading through the entire book, I’m not sure what in the world was going on / what the point of anything was. A book doesn’t have to have a point–I do love a good slice of life story–but this felt like it was trying to go for something. But with the absolute pile of characters (major, minor, versions of the same) jumping around all the time, it was hard to figure anything out. The prose and settings almost do enough to overcome that… but not quite enough.

So… I suppose it’s a book that was almost really really good… but didn’t quite stick the landing for me. It’s probably worth a try, but if you bounce off the first few chapters, consider that it doesn’t really change that much before the end.

“I don’t know. I liked the one with the swords. So many of them were kind of sad. I think the innkeeper and the moon were my favorite, but I wanted…” Zachary stops, not certain what he wanted from it. More, maybe. He hands the bottle back to Dorian.

“You wanted a happier ending?”

“No…not necessarily happier. I wanted more story. I wanted to know what happened afterward, I wanted the moon to figure out a way to come back even if she couldn’t stay. All those stories are like that, they feel like pieces of bigger stories. Like there’s more that happens beyond the pages.”