Young Zachary Ezra Rawlins is walking through the city one day and sees a door painted on a wall that is highly susceptible to graffiti. The painting is so detailed, it looks as though he could reach the doorknob and open the door. He considers it, then convinces himself to keep walking. The next day, the painted door is gone.
Years later, Zachary is now in his twenties, in grad school. He frequents the university library and stumbles upon a strange book that isn’t properly catalogued. As he begins to read, this exact scene from his childhood is written on the pages of a book much older than he is. Following his curiosity, Zachary soon finds himself in the world of the story again. He is presented with many more doors, but now he chooses to see where they lead. It may be a fairy tale, but it is deadly serious.
The Starless Sea flows through a universe where magic exists, and nothing is more magical than the feeling of being swept up in a good story. Zachary journeys on, navigating secret societies, magical portals, dark rituals, underground mazes, puzzles, keys, swords, romances that defy space and time, several cats and too many owls all in service of the story. Which story? There are so many stories. They are all the same story.
If this sounds confusing, just ride the wave. While fans of The Night Circus should definitely read this novel, it is disorienting. There are a lot of cocktails mentioned in this book, and frankly I felt a little inebriated and seasick while I stumbled through it. It can be maddening at times, but ultimately it is worth it. The Starless Sea delivers magic, atmosphere, and romance almost more than plot, though few novels could be said to have more plots than this one. It is a feat of Morgenstern’s writing and our own reading to unravel them all.