The Starless Sea, Erin Morgenstern; Dominic Hoffman, Dion Graham, Bahni Turpin, Fiona Hardingham, Allan Corduner, and Jorjeana Marie, narrators (Random House Audio, $50.00, CD, 18.5 hr., unabridged) November 2019.
When Zachary Ezra Rollins (you get to know his full name really well, since those three words open most of the sections from his perspective, which seems either mythic or repetitive when it’s continually spoken) was a boy, he came across a mysterious door painted on the wall, so real-looking that he thought he might be able to open it… but he didn’t have faith enough in it to try. He’s still haunted by that decision as a 25-year-old grad student exploring the use of story in video games. When he finds an old book in the library, he’s shocked to discover it contains an account of his encounter with the door. His search for answers, as well as his profound desire to be inside a story, brings him to a strange underground library in a cavern, a Harbor on the Starless Sea. (Unfortunately, he never really gets the opportunity to read any of the books, except one. Sob.) His journey to and through the Harbor and his pursuit of Dorian, the enigmatic man who helped him find his way to the Harbor, is one of a series of overlapping narratives and fables concerning star-crossed lovers, mainly involving the personifications of Time and Fate.
Morgenstern’s debut, The Night Circus, featured Jim Dale, the man of a thousand voices, as narrator. This book replaces a single person with several accomplished narrators, one for every plot thread, which works surprisingly well and enhances the sense of various tales told in separate ways that ultimately dovetail into a unified (but realistically, not always neat) story.
It’s hard to know how to quantify the book; it seems as if it could become a standard quest fantasy, of the type that would also be a suitable storyline for some videogames. But there’s no final boss fight, despite strong suggestions that the story is building up to one. Rather, the quest is about self-realization. Zachary has always wanted to be in a story—to be chosen. Instead, he learns that what he needs to do is choose, which obviously is not always easy to do.
A somewhat meandering, but lovely, adult version of The Neverending Story (the novel, not the movie, natch).
This review and more like it in the January 2020 issue of Locus.
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