There is a place where all the stories are.
It is underground, ostensibly, but it is an Other sort of place. A sprawling labyrinth where seekers and finders once congregated, set about with mysterious rules and guardians and keepers. It contains all of the stories, every story; it is a Harbor on the shore of a great and starless sea.
Once, the son of a fortune-teller found a door to that place and did not know it. And he did not step through.
I haven’t read anything of Erin Morgenstern’s before now, but found The Starless Sea rather charming (it probably does not hurt that as a massive library fan I am squarely in the target audience.) It’s a bit magical-realism to begin with – shades here of Charles De Lint – and gradually turns into a sort of…kaleidoscopic collection of fragments. As though someone had made up a Tarot deck of elements of the characters’ stories and assorted fables and then played 78-card pickup with them, placing them back into the book in the order they were collected.
There’s a real knack for description here, in my opinion – lush without an excess of enthusiasm – and I particularly enjoyed exploring the more mystical locales in the story; if a few bits of the narrative didn’t really crunch in that satisfying way for me that’s forgivable in favor of hanging out listening to someone’s imagination firing on all cylinders. Fans of tightly-plotted narratives may struggle here, I think – this reviewer over at the NYT certainly seems to have done. (I think I agree with them that as an aesthetic the book is bloody fantastic, though as a story it has some troubles.)
This is also one of the only books I think I have ever read in which a male protagonist has a crush on another man. (I am informed this just means I am not reading the right sorts of books. ;)) The crush, too, is charming; it’s sort of refreshing to see queer folks in stories where their queerness just is.
Honestly, though, if I were to choose a character in this book to be I would pick the girl whose most notable contribution to the world is at the very, very, very end. For reasons that will become very obvious if you read it yourself.