Archive | 10:03 AM

Book Club Reflection: The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern

23 Nov

I had a very fun opportunity last week. I’d read Erin Morgenstern’s book The Starless Sea with my reading buddy back when quarantine started. The SF&F book club at my library picked it for their read this past quarter so I tagged along for the discussion. It was great to hear what other people had to say about a book I discussed so much with my buddy.

Many of us had read Morgenstern’s other book, The Night Circus and more liked that book than this one. We all agreed that she’s a very good and lyrical writer and she has beautiful descriptions. She has stories within her story and many of them were beautifully written. We wanted to read Sweet Sorrow and see what the story would involve but, unfortunately, it’s probably nonsensical with all the pages Maribell tore out. The book seemed to be a love story written for books and wasn’t focused too much on the plot itself. One reader imagined the Harbor like the Library of Congress, with every book ever written included inside.

People either loved or hated this book. Many said the ending, where the fantasy elements really kicked in, was hard to get through and one almost abandoned it rather than finishing. A common complaint was that there was so much to keep track of and so many references to earlier or later text that it was a bit hard to enjoy while trying to mentally juggle so many things. There were a lot of things some felt were never well explained, like who the Owl King was. (A reader’s Google search returned a fairy tale from the 1600s as the reference for this one.) As someone pointed out, we’re in Zachary’s shoes for this book. He doesn’t understand everything around him and doesn’t get all of his questions answered and we have the same experience. Some felt the story didn’t have an ending, but the driving point seemed to be that another story was going to start, so this one had to end.

We had a lot of theories about the book. My favorite was that The Starless Sea (the story itself) was the story created to hide Fate’s heart until it was needed. We, as the readers, find our way through it by reading and solve the puzzle. All the layers and moving parts are part of the craft that kept the heart hidden inside. It took multiple reincarnations of Maribel so that it could finally be time to solve the puzzle and she can finally be with Time. We thought a lot about the dice, too. They told you what path you were more inclined toward, one reader likening them to Dungeons and Dragons dice roles for a character. We’re not too sure what the feather and crown mean, but maybe the harbor that Dorian, Zachary, and Kat form will be based on that. However, it was foretold that the sword Dorian wielded would kill a king and he’s killed Zachary. Is Zachary a king in the new harbor?

Kat was a favorite character for a few of us. She took care of the people around her. Allegra was universally disliked and her desire to keep the harbor the way it was was what made the world collapse around her. She was a gatekeeper who wanted to limit access to the library while the leader of our group, a librarian herself, sees that the role of librarians is the opposite of a gatekeeper, it’s to share and make information accessible. Toward the end, we’re told that Zachary and Dorian are the new Fate and Time. We wondered if they’d have the same trials as Maribel and the Keeper did to finally be together. Many of these characters have literary or cultural references in their name. Dorian comes from Wilde’s The Portrait of Dorian Gray and one reader suspected that Zachary’s middle name, Ezra, was a reference to a character in the Star Wars Rebels story. One of the most interesting was Eleanor. We’re told her name comes from Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House. However, her nickname, the name she chooses for herself, is Lenore. We couldn’t help but think of the Poe poem about his late wife by the same name.

I like joining this group from time to time to get a good SF&F fix. We’ll see what else they’ve got that can entice me. Until next time, write on.

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