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The Starless Sea

A Novel
Written by: Erin Morgenstern
Narrated by: Dominic Hoffman, full cast
Length: 18 hrs and 37 mins
4.3 out of 5 stars (152 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

From the New York Times best-selling author of The Night Circus, a timeless love story set in a secret underground world - a place of pirates, painters, lovers, liars, and ships that sail upon a starless sea.

Zachary Ezra Rawlins is a graduate student in Vermont when he discovers a mysterious book hidden in the stacks. As he turns the pages, entranced by tales of lovelorn prisoners, key collectors, and nameless acolytes, he reads something strange: a story from his own childhood.

Bewildered by this inexplicable book and desperate to make sense of how his own life came to be recorded, Zachary uncovers a series of clues - a bee, a key, and a sword - that lead him to a masquerade party in New York, to a secret club, and through a doorway to an ancient library hidden far below the surface of the earth.

What Zachary finds in this curious place is more than just a buried home for books and their guardians - it is a place of lost cities and seas, lovers who pass notes under doors and across time, and of stories whispered by the dead. Zachary learns of those who have sacrificed much to protect this realm, relinquishing their sight and their tongues to preserve this archive, and also of those who are intent on its destruction.

Together with Mirabel, a fierce, pink-haired protector of the place, and Dorian, a handsome, barefoot man with shifting alliances, Zachary travels the twisting tunnels, darkened stairwells, crowded ballrooms, and sweetly soaked shores of this magical world, discovering his purpose - in both the mysterious book and in his own life.

Read by Dominic Hoffman, with a full cast:

Dominic Hoffman reading the Zachary Ezra Rawlins storyline
Dion Graham reading the Sweet Sorrows storyline
Bahni Turpin reading excerpts from the Secret Diary of Katrina Hawkins
Fiona Hardingham reading The Ballad of Simon and Eleanor
Allan Corduner reading Fortunes and Fables
Jorjeana Marie reading Another place, another time

©2019 Erin Morgenstern (P)2019 Random House Audio

What the critics say

"Erin Morgenstern has magic to make...the author returns with a new fantastical fairy-tale for grown-ups.... Comparisons to the likes of Tolkien, Carroll, and C.S. Lewis abound. The Starless Sea poses big questions about stories - the ones we read, the ones we live, and the ones we tell ourselves. And at the heart of her work lies the themes that have provoked those comparisons: redemption, sacrifice, fate, time, reincarnation.... We’re willing to bet the embrace of this deeper, darker, more complex follow-up novel might be close to a sure thing. As Morgenstern posits, The Starless Sea is a door to another world - one just waiting for readers to open it." (Maureen Lee Lenker, Entertainment Weekly)

"A magnificent quest, a sense of unfolding adventure and danger, gold-wrought fantasy, and endless provocation on what storytelling really means." (Library Journal starred review)

"A high-wire feat of metatextual derring-do [and] a stunning array of linked fables, myths and origin stories.... It is exquisitely pleasurable to watch the gears of this epic fantasy turn once they're set in motion. As in The Night Circus, Morgenstern is at her best when she imagines worlds and rooms and parties in vivid detail.... This novel is a love letter to readers as much as an invitation: Come and see how much magic is left in the world. Fans of Neil Gaiman and V. E. Schwab, Kelly Link and Susanna Clarke will want to heed the call. An ambitious and bewitching gem of a book with mystery and passion inscribed on every page." (Kirkus Reviews starred review)

What listeners say about The Starless Sea

Average Customer Ratings
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Reviews - Please select the tabs below to change the source of reviews.

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  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    4 out of 5 stars

Surreal and dreamy fantasy

I'm really torn between giving this 4 and 5 stars, but eventually decided on 4 stars because I really don't think it's a book for everyone. But, the people who DO like this style will ADORE it. Like her first book, the settings are magical, and imaginative, and dreamily surreal a lot of the time. This novel drifts around a lot more than the Night Circus however, shifting between people and stories and even times and places, and it's quite difficult to figure out what's going on and how they all relate until you get significantly into the book. If that's a problem for you, this book probably is not for you. If you can enjoy dreamy descriptions of gorgeous fantastical settings and be patient to see how they tie together, then yes, grab this book today! It reminded me strongly of The High House by James Stoddard, and also a bit of Caraval by Stephanie Garber (both of which I'd also recommend if you enjoyed this book). It's hard to even describe the plot without either getting too complicated or giving too much away, but suffice it to say that boy finds a mysterious book with a chapter in it that exactly describes something that happened to him as a child, and becomes obsessed with learning more, which leads him to a masked ball, a mysterious underground (literally) society of story lovers and librarian types, a world where it's hard to tell where the lines between a story and reality blur together, and ultimately of course our protagonist may be the only one who can save the world (or at least fate and time) but only if he can outwit the forces out to oppose this who want the world to never change and always stay the same.

3 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    3 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars
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    1 out of 5 stars

Becomes tedious I couldn’t finish it

It starts out good .. good premise but just becomes an endless slog around and around .. I actually was only 2 hours from finishing but just couldn’t do it .

3 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

Brilliant

Brilliant story, and narration. Came here as a big fan of The Night Circus and was long awaiting the authors new book. Could not be more pleased. Excited for the next!

1 person found this helpful

  • Overall
    3 out of 5 stars
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    2 out of 5 stars

harsh s in narration

the narrator's s sound is so aggressive we would barely listen to the book

3 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

Amazing!

I’m crying but I don’t know if I’m feeling joy or sadness because the story ended. Lately, I feel my life is more buoyant in the pages of books, in the stories of other people... I loved every moment of this book! Thank you, Ms. Morgenstern for creating such wonderful tale

  • Overall
    2 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars
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    2 out of 5 stars

A book that, sadly, loses the reader

After finishing this book, I was left with the impression that this novel was striving to be something it didn’t attain. Weighed down by too many stories, too many tangents....too much stuff. If you get to the end you may find you have little recollection of how it started and by that, unsatisfied. If it was pared down, it would have been stunning. The Audible reading was done very well with a number of actors voicing different parts (which helped greatly). Thankful I chose the Audible version as I doubt I would have gotten through the book otherwise.

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    4 out of 5 stars
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    3 out of 5 stars

probably much better in print

The premise of this book sounded just like my cup of tea. However, I was immediately turned off by the narration. It was read as some kind of theatrical performance, rather than a novel, and the different voices and narraters broke up the flow and immersive experience. There was a classic theatre vibe to the narration that did not fit the main character, who was a young man in today's world. Other young characters he interacts with had dialogue that was taken right from the millennial handbook, but the formal narration, which often placed the wrong syllabic emphasis on the words, made me cringe. I love audiobooks, and I love print books, and I devour both by the dozens. But in my experience, some books just don't translate well to verbal narration. Alternatively, some can be read aloud but require the right tone and type of dialogue. There is a fine line between trying to act out the parts as if in a play, with all the overemphasis one comes to expect from performances, versus choosing different accents and voices for different characters - the latter is exemplified by the master talents of Ray Porter, for example. One of my favourite sci-fi series - Martha Wells' Murderbot series - was ruined as an audiobook by poor narration, evident just from listening to the sample recording, and reflected in the poor reviews; that book in print is among the best of the genre. So, in conclusion, the Starless Sea had so much potential, but was ruined for me by the narration. I just could not make it through the story before quitting, though I slogged miserably through the first half hoping it would get better. So I was unable to really assess whether the story itself could have been much better. I may buy the book in print, but I do not recommend this audio version.

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

Awesome to experience as audiobook

This is a great story and I really enjoyed having different voices performance different parts. Not like actress performing rules but reading different sections of the book. It was really well done.

  • Overall
    3 out of 5 stars
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    3 out of 5 stars

Actual Rating: 3.5 Stars

****** DISCLAIMER: This review contains spoilers, you have been warned. Read at your own risk! ****** All readers wish that a book from the library could set them on their own adventure. The Starless Sea does exactly what every reader (or at least this one) would love to have in real life. For me, this is a book for readers and for book lovers alike. That alone is reason enough to pick up this book. I have heard of Erin Morgenstern so much and the Night Circus is so beloved that I was a bit nervous to start this book. What if I didn’t like it and I get lots of angry comments? But then I just decided to take the plunge, and state my true opinion afterwards no matter what. This is a book that I was listening to while I was at the gym, which is why it took me so long to finish it (about 3 weeks.) I am very glad that I chose to listen to The Starless Sea because I felt like I would’ve gotten frustrated with the story if it was a physical version and might have even DNF’d it.  The voice actors, while not the best were not bad either. There were a couple that were much better than others. But, I appreciate the fact that the used multiple narrators as these are the types of audiobooks I prefer to listen to (dramatized with a full cast). As I mentioned earlier, I am happy that I chose to listen to this story because I felt like it added much more to it. It was a bit easier for me to follow along with the twisted storyline because of the different voice actors. If I was just reading the text I would’ve gotten more confused and maybe dropped the book entirely. One thing to keep in mind though, this is a long audiobook. Somewhere over 18 hours long, just something to think of before jumping in.  This book….. the pacing was weird to be perfectly honest. Events were always happening and the story was moving along, but it also felt like the characters weren’t getting anywhere. We were always learning new information, but it kind of felt like we were just running on the spot. If I had to describe this book in one sentence, it would have to be multiple storylines intersecting each other. We see most of the characters at one point or another interact with each other, which was interesting to see how they relate to each other and the storyline. Characters The characters were well formed but for some reason still a little bit lacking for me. I think because the storyline jumped around so much we never got to really delve too deep into any of them. While I would love to be Zachary and go on this epic adventure, I believe that I am most like Kat Hawkins. The side character who is a complete nerd and is on the fringes of the story. She was adorable and relatable and I very much liked her character. Fate and Time were interesting, but I was kind of surprised they played less of a role in the whole story than I thought they would. I also love the idea behind the Starless Sea. I love this haven of books and reading, I love the lore of Fate and Time, the Moon and the Owl King. Some of my favourite parts of the audiobook were when they were reading to stories featured in the story. It really expanded the world and gave little hints that I would try to work out as soon as possible. The Starless Sea I feel like is somewhere every reader would love to visit. To see every book in the world even as they are being enacted in real life. We all want a bit of book magic in our lives; to walk through a painted door and become a part of something more. But magic always comes with a price. To be honest at times I thought that Zachary was Fate’s heart and his lover Dorian was Time. I thought that our evil nemesis Allegra would have more of a presence in the book (also not die off so easily). I thought a lot of characters would play a larger part to be honest, but for the most part all are side characters (even Fate and Time who are the reason for the whole adventure) except for Zachary and Dorian. It was a full story but for me it just felt like parts were underdeveloped and glossed over, but maybe those are the parts we aren’t meant to know. I quite liked this book, but it also irritated me at the same time. The thing I disliked the most about it was the open ending. I don’t know if there is going to be a sequel to this book, but I hope so. I have so many questions that still need answers! What happened to Kat, did she go on her own adventure? We leave her sitting in the library deciding whether to or not. Did Dorian and Zachary turn out ok? What happened to the Starless Sea now that the Heart has disappeared? Do Max’s parents escape and find each other again? So many questions left unanswered by the end of the book. Honestly, this book felt like it only grabbed little bits of each storyline, just enough for the reader to understand the situation without fully fleshing everything out. In the end, did the story really end? Or just continue on with different characters in the main roles under different names? I hope there is a sequel because open ended books tend to drive me nuts. I like my stories all solved and tied up in a bow. Overall, The Starless Sea which is the first Erin Morgenstern book I read was a rather enjoyable one albeit a bit frustrating at times. I know this book has some difference in opinions when it comes to reader reviews, but I liked it. I imagine part of that would be because I haven’t read the Night Circus before this. But I would recommend this book if you want a roller coaster of a ride that all book lovers would want to go on. Also, one that really requires you to think and analyze the clues given. If anything else, read this book for the amazing and wondrous world created within it.

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    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

VERY MAGICAL

this book is very confusing but if you power through not fully understanding whats going on for the first 1/4 then the pay out is amazing, this will forever be one of my favourite books.

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  • Reisodi
  • 2019-12-17

A Story in a Story About Stories

Before reading this, it is important to know that it is a very stylized piece of art. Not everyone who looks at it will understand it, and not everyone who understands it will like it. This being said, I found the experience to be mystifying and amazing. The author definitely captures a magical feeling of being "lost" within a story, wrapping several parts of the story in layered metaphors, and often times making the reader feel as lost as the characters themselves. The Starless Sea is an experience of a story, and like many stories about literature, it plays with the idea of storytelling. This creative storytelling creates a polarizing experience. Near the end of the book is a very confusing sequence of events- told in a very unusual manner, and it is at this point where several readers became lost, and put down this adventure altogether. I would recommend this book to readers who want a challenge, who want to experience a dark magical world, and to those who appreciate a more avant-garde literary experience. This door isn't for everyone, but opening it will lead to one of your favorite, or maybe least favorite books.

36 people found this helpful

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    3 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars
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  • KinDallas
  • 2019-11-15

Loved Night Circus, but...

I'll start off with, I adore The Night Circus and was thrilled to see a new book by Morgenstern. The narration for Starless Sea is lovely, and we were off to a good start. However, by about halfway in, I was too disengaged in the story to want to finish. This is a pity, because I wanted this story so badly. The dialogue is stilted, and the stories within stories within stories, rather than nesting like dolls, bounced me around too much to really become invested. I so wish I enjoyed this, but I simply couldn't finish.

37 people found this helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars
  • Iniysa
  • 2019-11-09

Timeless

This story is about stories in a library that's not a library, in a world underground with a honey sea and a starless night. It's about a boy who's now a man. It's about time yet it is timeless. Beginnings that are ends. Don't delve into this book half hearted. Let it sink in and immerse you. It's complex and beautiful. I will perhaps re-read this in a year and it will be a new story with a familiar scent.

38 people found this helpful

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    1 out of 5 stars
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  • Richard E.
  • 2019-11-23

Just couldn't make it

It's always a bit of a challenge to parse reader reviews when there is such a dramatic rating disparity, i.e. The Starless Sea is best book God has ever written or it's a dumpster dive. And in this case it's neither. It's a good story that needs slash and burn editing. The story itself unfolds with a wonderfully fascinating premise only to fade somewhere around the halfway point into road weary tedium. Plot and character "wandering" in combination with the lack of a firm-handed editor just wore me out. Didn't really care what happened, why or what's coming next. Think through-line or lack thereof. It's a shame, because somewhere in here is a compelling tale. Not a huge spoiler to tell of the plot element of a magical (?) otherworldly subterranean library with an almost infinite number of spaces, doors and passages. It's as if the author was so intrigued with this limitless quantum structure that she wanted us to explore all of it with an ever diminishing sense of purpose or meaning.

69 people found this helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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  • Aly P
  • 2019-11-06

Favorite book of 2019!

Wow wow wow! This book has been a long time coming and it did not disappoint! It was magical and whimsical and sad and beautiful and I absolutely loved it! The writing was so similar to The Night Circus and it just flowed around me. I got lost in the story and didn't want it to end. The characters were so well done, Zachary and Dorian, Mirabel and Allegra, and all the side characters. The little tales interspersed were great and really added to the overall feeling of the story. I loved this and cannot recommend it enough! The audio was great, the different narrators in different parts made it pop and helped me tell when we were transitioning.

45 people found this helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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  • Jennifer
  • 2019-11-09

Perfection

The Night Circus took my breath away. I have, ever since, simultaneously yearned for and feared a second offering from the author. Could they catch lightning in a bottle twice? What if Jim Dale played too big a part in the magic, and not getting him back lessened the experience? I shouldn’t have worried. Somehow, by some strange alchemy, this book has managed to be even better. It broke my heart. It mended it. Not over the same matters, but multiple times each. I’ve never read anything like this before. and now? I wish it hadn’t ended, but know that it had to.

19 people found this helpful

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    2 out of 5 stars
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    3 out of 5 stars
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    2 out of 5 stars
  • Aaron Graff
  • 2019-11-23

4 hours left..I just can’t keep going

I wanted to love this like the night circus but dang. It’s long, confusing, and sooooo slow! Deleted after the 12 hour-ish mark.

27 people found this helpful

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    1 out of 5 stars
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  • Boog
  • 2019-11-25

Almost there....and then...Not.

This is the first time I have left a review and I have listened to hundreds of books. The story has all of the elements and then...it turns in to a pedantic, dialoguing fever dream. It has a lot of great possibilities but never gets to a concrete story.

43 people found this helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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  • Tobyizme
  • 2019-11-09

To those who believe in magic,

The Starless Sea is a love story penned to those of us who have never chased the white rabbit to its hole, never unlocked our magic wardrobe, never received our letter to Hogwarts, and never stole a Tardis. I have daydreamed a book to write such as this one and Erin Morgenstern conjured my dreams into her own penmanship. This tale is not for everyone, yet- for those of you always checking the cupboards and under the stairs just incase magic would sweep you away- what feels personally mine and certainly hers and can now be yours also.

24 people found this helpful

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    1 out of 5 stars
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  • Kelly
  • 2019-11-17

hated the narrator

I loved The Night Circus and pre-ordered this sight unseen, but I wish I had waited until I heard a sample. I actually can't tell you how the story is because I couldn't get past the first chapter. The narrator does the dreaded Reading Voice, in which every word is a breathless jewel to be savored individually, with lots of extra commas thrown in to make sure you can never just lose yourself in the story. I'll get this one in print form and wish I could return the audio version.

31 people found this helpful