“A boy at the beginning of a story has no way of knowing that the story has begun.”
The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern
When we first meet our protagonist Zach, he’s on winter break in his last year of grad school. He’s wandering around the library looking for a good book to read and is feeling guilty about it. What he should be doing, as an Emerging Media Major, is playing video games in preparation for his thesis. He justifies his reading by telling himself, “reading a novel is like playing a game where all the choices by you have been made ahead of time by someone who is much better at this particular game.” He fondly remembers the old choose-your-own adventure novels from his childhood. While meandering through the library, he finds an old, battered book without an author or call number entitled Sweet Sorrows which, he is stunned to realize, is about him! Or what he might have been….
Years earlier, as a child walking home from school, Zach had come across an ornately decorated door glowing brightly in the depths of a dark alley. He somehow knew then that if he opened it, he could slip into another world. Instead, he walked away, and has thought about that decision many times ever since. In Sweet Sorrows, however, the book-character Zach opens that door and walks through and the grad-student Zach reads about the myriad of other worlds behind it, including the Starless Sea.
Through a series of quirky circumstances, which reminded me of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, our protagonist Zach stumbles into the real world of the Starless Sea which he proceeds to explore and to fight to protect for the rest of this vividly visual adventure. As I read this book, I felt as if I were following Zach through a sophisticated video game as he explored this magical world, built throughout the ages to keep safe its books and stories. Zach meets other protectors of this living library and learns that there are those trying to shut it down forever. He understands that he must try to stop them before this magical book world and all its contents are lost forever.
The Starless Sea is Morgenstern’s tribute to books and storytelling. She shows her reader that no emerging technology—video games or virtual reality– will ever be able to create stories as vibrant or exciting as those which already exist in stories in books. The Starless Sea is for readers who yearn to disappear into a fantastical magical world carried by an author you can trust to deliver danger, adventure, love and a satisfying ending. Highly recommended.