i read this for a book club that i was in and the entire time i was thinking to myself... wow. i do not want to be reading this for the book club i'm in, right now. genuinely very surprised that so many people seemed to be so excited for it when it was just genuinely... not interesting? it had all the pretentiousness of dark academia without any of the college student murder at all. really really painfully mediocre while trying really hard to be sexy and poetic and metaphorical, all at the same time. the author very very clearly idolized the dark academia university grad student aesthetic to an insane degree without actually like, putting any substance into the story or characters. the protagonist is sooooo boring and he sounds the exact same as every other character in the book, i swear to god.
like ok, it's not all bad. i enjoyed the story-within-a-story narrative, i think it's a very interesting idea and structure to work with... i just don't think that it's used very well, at all? like there's no IMPACT to it, if that makes sense... zachary reads a story about himself and that kicks him into finding the starless sea and then the rest of the stories-within-stories don't feel like they have any real ramifications besides "repeating imagery and sideplots that the audience already knows to be important." they don't reveal anything that the main events of zachary-plot doesn't already TELL the readers? if anything, that just leads me to my next gripe: it is BECAUSE of the story-within-story structure trying to unveil so much backstory but also propel the plot forward all at the same time that the book just gets super messy to read. 4000 plot threads and stories, and only a few of them actually affect the main zachary-plot. those that DO affect it past the inciting incident make very little impact on the main plot itself besides "oh, here's more lore about side character X, who you have no real attachment to because they sound the Exact Same as zachary."
none of the characters speak like real people! all of the different perspectives are couched in the same flowery, metaphorical, purple-prose descriptions and the dialogue all sounds so same-y, nobody feels UNIQUE from one another. everyone is flat. it's almost like the author is just stating "Zachary Has This Motive" "Mirabel Has This Motive" "Allegra Has This Motive" and expecting us to take that as their ENTIRE character, with no words or actions to back that up. and the constantly-flowery language just makes the entire book feel super fucking pretentious. like, i get that zachary was wearing a cable-knit grey sweater with perfectly-hemmed brown slacks and a pair of golden glasses that complemented his curly hair. i get it. having lots of description in specific vivid moments is good for establishing important moments as Important Moments but like. when THE WHOLE BOOK is written in that style, there is NOTHING that goes without description, it becomes tiring to read. it feels like the author sacrificed characterization for setting description and having all of the characters be super Cool and Charismatic and Mysterious and so so College Student.
the ending of the book was "thrilling" to read, at the very least... like, i wanted to get through it all in one sitting, if that says anything. the romance between zachary and dorian was super rushed and super forced and felt like a straight white woman fanfiction author wanted to write a gay romance for the sake of "wow cute guys getting together... the hot yaoiz of dark academia" which. y'know, not sure what i expected from a book like this. i'll get over it though. overall really nothing to write home about. i felt microaggressed against by the "representation." you can spend your time in better ways