The Starless Sea

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Author: 
Morgenstern, Erin

Zachary Ezra Rawlins is a graduate student in Vermont when he discovers a rare 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 a subterranean 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 of honey, 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 beautiful 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 rare book and in his own life-- Provided by publisher.

Discussion Guide: 

1. Talk about the underground realm of the Starless Sea. How would you describe the library to someone who has never read the book?

2. Three of the book's most prominent symbols, in a book full of them, are a sword, a key, and a bee. What is the role each symbol plays in the book and what does each signify, or represent?

3. One of the novel's central ideas is that we are our stories. How does this theme unfold during the course of the story?

4. (Follow-up to Question 3) In what way is this book about Zachary's life story—that as a child he made a choice not to open a magical door? What does he learn throughout this book about how that decision altered his life? What about turning points in your own life. Do you think back on some of them and wonder how a different decision might have led you on a completely different path?

5. (Follow-up to Question 4) The novel asks the question, if a single decision can alter the direction of our lives, to what degree are we in charge of our own stories/lives? Are our lives subject to fate, or destiny?

6. In what way is The Starless Sea also about how stories take over our lives? Zachary, for instance is presented with "a labyrinthine of tunnels and rooms filled with stories." How can he (or we) not be drawn in? 7. Morgenstern has packed her novel with literary allusions. Even Zachary's own name contains three of them. Can you unpack others: consider works by Lewis Carroll, Neil Gaiman, J.K. Rowling. J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, Jules Verne. Can you identify others? Are the literary references clever "affectations," or do they actually affect the plot of the novel?

8. Which of the mysterious characters were you most puzzled by… intrigued by… or drawn to? Take any one of the following, for instance: Rhyme, the Keeper, Mirabel (is she Fate…or is she the Moon?), Allegra, Eleanor, and Simon. Any others?

9. Zachary observes at one point that reading a novel is like "playing a game where all the choices have been made for you ahead of time by someone who is much better at this particular game." Care to comment on that statement?

10. What was your experience reading The Starless Sea? Was it what you had hoped for? More than you'd hoped for? Less? Did you find yourself entering a world of enchantment… or a cluttered, confusing world? In other words, were you pleased or disappointed? How would you compare this book to Morgenstern's first, The Night Circus?

(Question by LitLovers)