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 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.
The best way I can think of to describe this book is that it is a mashup of Piranesi by Susanna Clarke, Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman, The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix Harrow, and Once Upon a River by Diane Setterfield. The world building was amazing and completely original, I loved all of the nerd references, and the writing style is simply stunning. I was also fascinated by the antagonist and her motivations, and thought she was very well done. The nature of the storyline was also quite impressive, as it was a set of stories within a story (almost like Russian nesting dolls), and the way that Morgenstern wove everything together was brilliant. This was probably my favorite part of the book, as it was so exciting to see how the individual sets of characters would pop up in the most unexpected places.
There were really only two things I struggled with, and they are both just personal things. One, the main character (Zachary) is gay, and so there is a homosexual romance. It was very tastefully done, so it wasn’t offensive or blatantly political, I just hadn’t ever read a book where the MC is gay before. The second thing is that the world building was so original and complex that it was hard for me to always get an accurate mental picture on how everything worked. I was listening to this as an audiobook, which may have reduced my ability to retain all of the world building details.
Overall, it was very impressively done, and I would highly recommend it to fans of this genre (especially if they are gamers).
Content warning: There was a smattering of language throughout, as well as some minor gore (nothing gratuitous, but it does have a good bit of action in it).