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The Starless Sea
Cover of The Starless Sea
The Starless Sea
A Novel
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From the New York Times bestselling 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 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.
From the New York Times bestselling 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 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.
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Excerpts-
  • From the book BOOK I

    SWEET SORROWS

    Once, very long ago . . .

    There is a pirate in the basement.

    (The pirate is a metaphor but also still a person.)

    (The basement could rightly be considered a dungeon.)

    The pirate was placed here for numerous acts of a piratey nature considered criminal enough for punishment by those non-pirates who decide such things.

    Someone said to throw away the key, but the key rests on a tarnished ring on a hook that hangs on the wall nearby.

    (Close enough to see from behind the bars. Freedom kept in sight but out of reach, left as a reminder to the prisoner. No one remembers that now on the key side of the bars. The careful psychological design forgotten, distilled into habit and convenience.)

    (The pirate realizes this but withholds comment.)

    The guard sits in a chair by the door and reads crime serials on faded paper, wishing he were an idealized, fictional version of himself. Wondering if the difference between pirates and thieves is a matter of boats and hats.

    After a time he is replaced by another guard. The pirate cannot discern the precise schedule, as the basement-dungeon has no clocks to mark the time and the sound of the waves on the shore beyond the stone walls muffles the morning chimes, the evening merriment.

    This guard is shorter and does not read. He wishes to be no one but himself, he lacks the imagination to conjure alter egos, even the imagination to empathize with the man behind the bars, the only other soul in the room beyond the mice. He pays elaborate amounts of attention to his shoes when he is not asleep. (He is usually asleep.)

    Approximately three hours after the short guard replaces the reading guard, a girl comes.

    The girl brings a plate of bread and a bowl of water and sets them outside the pirate's cell with hands shaking so badly that half the water spills. Then she turns and scampers up the stairs.

    The second night (the pirate guesses it is night) the pirate stands as close to the bars as he can and stares and the girl drops the bread nearly out of reach and spills the bowl of water almost entirely.

    The third night the pirate stays in the shadows of the back corner and manages to keep most of his water.

    The fourth night a different girl comes.

    This girl does not wake the guard. Her feet fall more softly on the stones and any sound they make is stolen away by the waves or by the mice.

    This girl stares into the shadows at the barely visible pirate, gives a little disappointed sigh, and places the bread and bowl by the bars. Then she waits.

    The pirate remains in the shadows.

    After several minutes of silence punctuated by the guard's snoring, the girl turns away and leaves.

    When the pirate retrieves his meal he finds the water has been mixed with wine.

    The next night, the fifth night if it is night at all, the pirate waits by the bars for the girl to descend on her silent feet.

    Her steps halt only briefly when she sees him.

    The pirate stares and the girl stares back.

    He holds out a hand for his bowl and his bread but the girl places them on the ground instead, her eyes never leaving his, not allowing so much as the hem of her gown to drift into his reach. Bold yet coy. She gives him a hint of a bow as she returns to her feet, a gentle nod of her head, a movement that reminds him of the beginning of the dance.

    (Even a pirate can recognize the beginning of a dance.)

    The next night the pirate stays back from the bars, a polite distance that could be closed in a single step, and the girl comes a breath closer.

    Another night...
About the Author-
  • ERIN MORGENSTERN is the author of The Night Circus, a number-one national bestseller that has been sold around the world and translated into thirty-seven languages. She has a degree in Theatre from Smith College and lives in Massachusetts.
Reviews-
  • Library Journal

    June 1, 2019

    In this follow-up to The Night Circus, which has sold 1.6 million copies in the United States alone, grad student Zachary Ezra Rawlins discovers a mysterious book containing loyal acolytes, captive lovers, key seekers, and, surprisingly, the story of his childhood. Following enigmatic clues, he is led to a doorway opening on a time-worn underground library and a strange new world where he will find his true purpose. Major promotion.

    Copyright 2019 Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

  • Publisher's Weekly

    Starred review from July 15, 2019
    Built from fables, myths, and fairy tales, Morgenstern’s long-awaited second fantastical novel (following The Night Circus) delves into a vast subterranean library, the Harbor on the Starless Sea, a giant, maze-like, subterranean library where all languages are comprehensible to everyone, and time moves differently. Its wonders include moving statues, edible stories, and a sea made of honey. Narrative-obsessed grad student Zachary Rawlins happens upon an old, authorless collection in the campus library. Among the tales of an improbable land of books and their devotees is an anecdote from Zachary’s own childhood, a time when he found a magical door but chose to walk away, disbelieving. Desperate to understand and longing for a second chance at adventure, Zachary investigates and finds a literary party thrown by a secret society. He goes through a painted door in Central Park and into the Harbor itself, now long past its heyday and mostly deserted. Aboveground, the secret society is trying to close as many doors as possible, hoping to keep the Starless Sea hidden. Aided by otherworldly Mirabel, whose motives and history are obscure, and alluring Dorian, a former society member who opposes the closing of the doors, Zachary works to understand how the Harbor fell into disrepair and what he can do to protect it. He also learns what it means to be not just a reader but a part of the story, and what happens after that story ends. This love letter to bibliophiles is dreamlike and uncanny, grounded in deeply felt emotion, and absolutely thrilling. Agent: Richard Pine, InkWell Management.

  • Kirkus

    August 15, 2019
    A withdrawn graduate student embarks on an epic quest to restore balance to the world in this long-anticipated follow-up to The Night Circus (2011).Zachary Ezra Rawlins is a typical millennial introvert; he likes video games, escapist reading, and drinking sidecars. But when he recognizes himself in the pages of a mysterious book from the university library, he's unnerved--and determined to uncover the truth. What begins as a journey for answers turns into something much bigger, and Zachary must decide whether to trust the handsome stranger he meets at a highflying literary fundraiser in New York or to retreat back to his thesis and forget the whole affair. In a high-wire feat of metatextual derring-do, Morgenstern weaves Zachary's adventure into a stunning array of linked fables, myths, and origin stories. There are pirates and weary travelers, painters who can see the future, lovers torn asunder, a menacing Owl King, and safe harbors for all the stories of the world, far below the Earth on the golden shores of a Starless Sea. Clocking in at more than 500 pages, the novel requires patience as Morgenstern puts all the pieces in place, but 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, right down to the ballroom stairs "festooned with lanterns and garlands of paper dipped in gold" or a cloak carved from ice with "ships and sailors and sea monsters...lost in the drifting snow." 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.

    COPYRIGHT(2019) Kirkus Reviews, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

  • Booklist

    Starred review from August 1, 2019
    Morgenstern's new fantasy epic is a puzzlebox of a book, full of meta-narratives and small folkloric tales that will delight readers. Zachary is a grad student who stumbles on a mysterious book in his library. Pulling on the thread of its origins, he discovers the symbols of the bee, the book, and the sword, that in turn lead him to a secret society that protects a magical, subterranean library. Chased by shadowy people determined to close off the library from our world, Zachary and new friends Dorian and Mirabel eventually reach the library itself, which is neglected?and in need of saving. Morgenstern (The Night Circus, 2011) uses poetic, honey-like prose to tell a story that plays with the very concept of what we expect and want from our stories; she also asks questions about accessibility, and what it truly means to guard something as precious as the library. She trusts her readers to follow along and speculate, wonder, and make leaps themselves as she dives into tales of pirates, book burnings, and men lost in time, giving the book a mythic quality that will stick with readers long after they put it down. [HIGH-DEMAND BACK STORY: The massive legion of readers who loved Morgenstern's debut will be clamoring to recapture the magic of that reading experience.](Reprinted with permission of Booklist, copyright 2019, American Library Association.)

  • NPR "Anyone who's read Erin Morgenstern's wildly successful fiction debut, The Night Circus, knows how meticulously she crafts her imaginary worlds... the reader [is] immersed in a multitude of stories, the threads of which gradually weave together to a haunting conclusion."
  • Newsday "A mythical tale...a story about stories, all essentially relating to Fate and Time. Morgenstern nests a glittering trove of meta-narratives, myths, folkloric fables within a main storyline about a hero's quest. The Starless Sea is the kind of book that could spawn a Harry Potter-esque cult. I can imagine fan sites devoted to mapping, analyzing and connecting the dots among its fantastical intricacies. I predict readers for whom it will become a holy of holies, one of their most treasured books of all time. It's that kind of book. "
  • Angie Kim, author of Miracle Creek "A spellbinding novel. . . . I could not put it down, and when I finished, I turned immediately back to the first page so I wouldn't have to leave this magical world. If you believe in the power of stories to transcend time and space, to marry love and fate, read this book!"
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