When grad student Zachary finds an untitled book in the library, he is shocked to find it contains a chapter about him. An event that happened years ago, that no one else could have known about. The day he found a painted door on a wall and didn’t go through it. This mysterious book leads him to the world it describes, one of silent acolytes, guardians and keepers, of bees, swords and keys, of stories kept safe in a harbour on the Starless Sea.

I wasn’t the biggest fan of The Night Circus, but I liked the sound of a secret underground book cult enough to give Erin Morgenstern another chance and I’m glad I did! Now don’t expect to be sucked in immediately, it takes a while for the seemingly unconnected stories to come together.

Not all stories speak to all listeners, but all listeners can find a story that does, somewhere, sometime. In one form or another.

The Starless Sea is metafiction, several books within a book. The opening chapters are from a book Zachary finds, and it alternates between his story and “Sweet Sorrows”. The fictional book is not all that linear either, but at some point it just clicks. There are other fictional books used in the same way, giving up new bits of the story. It is a story about stories, whether written, oral or in a game…

I’d heard that this book was a kind of ode to video games, and at first I thought that it was just her character’s choice of study that was the tribute, but then the game tropes start appearing. A character must get something for another character in order to continue with their quest, found objects reveal a little bit of story, the visual symbolism, putting things in conveniently shaped holes reveals a hidden stairway… Those kind of things. Knowing the game connection made me much more accepting of these plot devices, it’s just like a game! There was one point when I thought they might actually be in a game.

Reading a novel, he supposes, is like playing a game where all the choices have been made for you ahead of time by someone who is much better at this particular game.

I quite liked the stories from “Sweet Sorrows”, “Fortunes and Fables” and “The Ballad of Simon and Eleanor” by themselves. They are myths and fairytales, almost standalone short stories until you piece together the players. I totally understand why some people went back and re-read it straight away. There are some things I don’t quite have connected, and I had to do a bit of flicking back and forth at points near the end. To be honest, the things I’m not clear about don’t really matter.

Morgenstern’s writing is beautiful and there are plenty of quotable lines. I thought the characters and plot were much stronger in this than The Night Circus, and her prose had more purpose.

Occasionally, Fate pulls itself together again and Time is always waiting.

The ending was a teensy bit unsatisfying. I suppose the point was that whilst stories have endings, there’s always more story possible. I just don’t see Fate accepting it considering what they were trying to achieve.

POPSUGAR Reading Challenge: 21. A book published the month of your birthday

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Book Source: Purchased