Skip to main content

Review - The Starless Sea - Erin Morgenstern

Erin Morgenstern's first novel, The Night Circus is one of my favourite books, so I was awaiting the infamously difficult second novel with a mix of anticipation and concern. Now I've finished reading it, I think both emotions were appropriate.

Although still a fantasy with a partial real-world setting, The Starless Sea is a different kind of book to The Night Circus. As both have something of a period feel (despite The Starless Sea being set in the present day), I would say that the new book is like an Impressionist painting to the first novel's Pre-Raphaelite. In The Night Circus, the attraction of the book was crystal clear - here it's fuzzy and consists more of light than detail.

Overall, The Starless Sea is a very clever creation, intertwined in a complex fashion. Most of the narrative has interlaced fairy stories, which initially seem to be little elements on the side but gradually weave their way into the whole. It's a long book - perhaps a tad too long - but there's plenty going on... it's just not always obvious why, or where it's going. The protagonist, Zachary Ezra Rawlins, is a grad student who mostly studies computer games and quite often the experiences he goes through feel like taking part in a massive fantasy-based adventure puzzle game - for classic games lovers, The Seventh Guest or Myst on steroids.

A useful comparison is one of the greatest American fantasy writers, Gene Wolfe. In quite a few of Wolfe's books the reader has to suspend frustration as the author piles in confusing elements that only come together in the end to make a magnificent whole. This happens here as well, and often is done well - but some of the confusing elements come too near the end and never truly resolve.

I don't want to sound negative here. I very much enjoyed reading this book, and it was a daring move on the part of Morgenstern. But it didn't come together as brilliantly as I hoped or as cleverly as it promised.

Available from and


Popular posts from this blog

Why I hate opera

If I'm honest, the title of this post is an exaggeration to make a point. I don't really hate opera. There are a couple of operas - notably Monteverdi's Incoranazione di Poppea and Purcell's Dido & Aeneas - that I quite like. But what I do find truly sickening is the reverence with which opera is treated, as if it were some particularly great art form. Nowhere was this more obvious than in ITV's recent gut-wrenchingly awful series Pop Star to Opera Star , where the likes of Alan Tichmarsh treated the real opera singers as if they were fragile pieces on Antiques Roadshow, and the music as if it were a gift of the gods. In my opinion - and I know not everyone agrees - opera is: Mediocre music Melodramatic plots Amateurishly hammy acting A forced and unpleasant singing style Ridiculously over-supported by public funds I won't even bother to go into any detail on the plots and the acting - this is just self-evident. But the other aspects need some ex

Is 5x3 the same as 3x5?

The Internet has gone mildly bonkers over a child in America who was marked down in a test because when asked to work out 5x3 by repeated addition he/she used 5+5+5 instead of 3+3+3+3+3. Those who support the teacher say that 5x3 means 'five lots of 3' where the complainants say that 'times' is commutative (reversible) so the distinction is meaningless as 5x3 and 3x5 are indistinguishable. It's certainly true that not all mathematical operations are commutative. I think we are all comfortable that 5-3 is not the same as 3-5.  However. This not true of multiplication (of numbers). And so if there is to be any distinction, it has to be in the use of English to interpret the 'x' sign. Unfortunately, even here there is no logical way of coming up with a definitive answer. I suspect most primary school teachers would expands 'times' as 'lots of' as mentioned above. So we get 5 x 3 as '5 lots of 3'. Unfortunately that only wor

Which idiot came up with percentage-based gradient signs

Rant warning: the contents of this post could sound like something produced by UKIP. I wish to make it clear that I do not in any way support or endorse that political party. In fact it gives me the creeps. Once upon a time, the signs for a steep hill on British roads displayed the gradient in a simple, easy-to-understand form. If the hill went up, say, one yard for every three yards forward it said '1 in 3'. Then some bureaucrat came along and decided that it would be a good idea to state the slope as a percentage. So now the sign for (say) a 1 in 10 slope says 10% (I think). That 'I think' is because the percentage-based slope is so unnatural. There are two ways we conventionally measure slopes. Either on X/Y coordiates (as in 1 in 4) or using degrees - say at a 15° angle. We don't measure them in percentages. It's easy to visualize a 1 in 3 slope, or a 30 degree angle. Much less obvious what a 33.333 recurring percent slope is. And what's a 100% slope