Here’s the quick synopsis and section by section summary for The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern. Spoiler warning: these summaries contains spoilers.
Table of Contents
Quick Plot Synopsis
The Starless Sea — Explained!
For a non-spoiler version of the plot summary, see The Bibliofile’s review of The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern.
Quick(ish) Plot Synopsis
In Book I, there is a book (Sweet Sorrows) that consists of a series of nested stories about the Starless Sea, an underground sanctuary dedicated to storytelling. The first story is about a pirate and his lover, and all these stories describe characters that later reappear in the story (a boy in a library, a boy finding a door, a little girl in a forest, etc.). One story describes how Time fell in Love with Fate, which disrupted the flow of time. Fate was then destroyed. An owl eats its eyes, but its heart was saved.
It is interspersed with a main narrative Zach, who finds the book and recognizes that one of the stories describes him as a boy finding a portal to the Starless Sea. Zach starts to research it, but others (the Collector’s Club) are after the book, too. Zach meets Dorian, who can get him to the Starless Sea. Zach gets to the Harbor of the Starless Sea, but Dorian is captured (by the Collector’s Club and a woman named Allegra) in the process.
Book II (Fortune & Fables) contains stories relating to the first book. One involves the Moon falling in love with an Innkeeper. Others involve the Owl King (the owl that ate Fate’s eyes). (In an interlude, we learn that the pirate and his lover have lived many lives, but are torn apart each time.)
It is interspersed with the continuation of Zach’s story. Zach meets a woman named Mirabel at the Harbor, and together they rescue Dorian. Zach learns that the Collector’s Club is trying to destroy portals and prevent others from accessing the Starless Sea in order to protect it.
Book III (The Ballad of Eleanor & Simon) describes two people, Eleanor (the girl in the forest) and Simon Keating, who fall in love, but they exist in different times. They meet due to a space in the Harbor where time is disrupted. Eleanor gets pregnant, but Simon is never able to find her after that.
Meanwhile, Zach finds the book The Ballad of Eleanor & Simon. Mirabel shows Zach the Starless Sea, which is now an abyss because it has been declining for a long time. It used to be vibrant place, but now only a few people are left. He also learns that Mirabel and the Keeper of the Harbor are lovers.
Book IV, Zach hears a continuation of the Moon’s and the Innkeeper’s story. The Moon asks Death and Time for help to stay with the Innkeeper. Time agrees and moves the inn to a place separate from Time where the Moon can visit the Innkeeper. In return, Time asks the Moon to find a way to reunite it with Fate.
Soon after, the Harbor starts falling apart. Allegra shows up to attack Dorian, and she drags him down into the abyss.
In Book V, the Keeper explains that he and Mirabel have been lovers over many lifetimes. He is timeless, but he continually loses Mirabel who returns in other forms. Zach realizes that the Keeper is the pirate/Time and Mirabel is the lover/Fate. (Mirabel is also Eleanor’s daughter). Zach and Mirabel head into the abyss supposedly to rescue Dorian, but Mirabel’s alterior motive is to find Simon. Zach and Mirabel are separated, but Simon saves Zach. Zach finds a paper star with his fate written on it, but he throws it away.
Meanwhile, Dorian is rescued by Eleanor who travels on a ship in the Starless Sea. (Allgera died from the fall). Eleanor brings him to the Inn. There, the Moon presents Dorian with a box with Fate’s heart in it.
In Book VI, much time has passed, Zach has been wandering, and finally comes across Dorian. Dorian takes his sword and stabs him in the heart. Mirabel and tells Zach that he (and his death) was the key to ending the story so that things can change.
(Meanwhile, Zach’s friend Kat has been looking for him, wondering what happened. She eventually finds a portal into the Starless Sea.)
In the Afterwards, Dorian takes Fate’s heart and puts it in Zach’s chest to revive him. Mirabel and the Keeper are together. It’s the end of that story, but a new one has begun.
The Starless Sea — Explained!
In really simple terms, what exactly happens in this book?
From what I can gather, Fate falls in love with Time, which causes a disruption in Time so Fate must be destroyed (by the Owl King). However, a mouse saves Fate’s heart from the Owl King. The mouse approaches the the story sculptor (Fate in a different form) and asks her to keep something safe (the heart). She wraps it up in a nested stories and dead ends so no one can find it (which is basically the story that we are reading about this sanctuary).
Within the confines of that nested story, the Moon falls in love with an Innkeeper. She convinces Death to spare him, and asks Time for a space detached from time so they can be together. Time agrees to help, but on the condition that the Moon helps Time and Fate find a way to be together. So, the Moon has the Innkeeper store Fate’s heart safely (so the heart is stored within these nested stories and is then stored within the frozen-time area of the Inn).
The characters in this story take on many roles, the same way that characters and prototypical figures in stories often do. Allegra, Rhyme, Dorian, etc. are all characters in this story. Allegra is the villain, founder of the Collector’s Club, who both seeks to prevent people from entering and wants to forestall its ending. The Keating Foundation works in opposition to the Collector’s Club. Simon and Eleanor are part of the story, too.
Within these nested stories is one about a sword (and its duplicates) that is created to kill the Owl King (which basically means ending the story). It and Zach are the keys to ending the story.
Zach arrival as the Key is actually the end of the story. Through the book, we discover the story as he does, but he is really the beginning of the end. When he finally goes into the Starless Sea and removes the heart from the Inn, things start to unravel and become untethered. When Dorian finally stabs him, it ends this story, but by giving him Fate’s heart, it starts a new one.
Anyway, this is my interpretation of events. I don’t think everything really fits together neatly, and because of that, you could make a bunch of arguments for different variations of what the plot really is. Feel free to leave your thoughts below.
Who is the Owl King and what does the Owl King represent?
Erin Morgenstern has stated that this was purposely left somewhat open-ended. As she was writing it, she tried different variations on what it should “mean”. The character of Simon does explains that “who” the Owl King is changes from story to story, and he describes the Owl King as type of phenomenon.
I (as in me, the writer of this blog, not an “official” statement from Morgenstern or anyone associated with the book) think you can see it as something that brings change, a powerful force, an ending or a new beginning in a story — but perhaps others may have their own interpretation.
What are all the characters with dual/multiple roles in The Starless Sea?
The Pirate is the Keeper. He is also Time.
The girl is Mirabel. Mirabel is also the painter of the doors and the little girl who grows up in the Harbor. She is also Fate and the Story Sculptor. She was taught to paint by Allegra, who was originally an acolyte in a Harbor.
The mouse-like man (who commissions the sculptor) is the mouse who steals Fate’s heart from the Owl King.
The girl who finds a door on the forest floor is Eleanor and she is Mirabel’s mother (the father is Simon).
Simon inherits a key from his late mother (Jocelyn), and he is the man lost in time. Jocelyn Keating was part of the Keating Foundation which is dedicated to building a place that exists out of time and bringing people into the Starless Sea.
The acolyte who can’t speak is Rhyme.
The acolyte who is a painter that gives up her eye instead of her tongue is Allegra. She realizes she has made a mistake by joining. She later founds the Collector Club dedicated to destroying the doors.
The boy in the library who is tested by being asked to watch a book by a lady in a green scarf is Dorian. By passing the test, he became a Guardian.
Zachary is the son of the fortune teller (Madame Love). He is also the Key to ending the story. He is destined to wield the Sword that will kill the Owl King (essentially, ending the story), though Dorian is the one who stabs him.
Book 1: Sweet Sorrows
Once, very long ago… A pirate is locked in a cell. Each night a girl brings him food, quietly so as not to wake the guard. She is scared at first, but they grow closer. The night before the pirate is to be executed, the girl asks him to tell her a story.
There are three paths. This is one of them. The pirate’s story begins: There is an underground labyrinth that is a sanctuary for stories and storytellers. For those who wish to stay there, there are three paths, one of which is that of the acolyte. A young woman chooses to become an acolyte. After spending time in isolation to consider her choice, she chooses to continue. She is initiated and branded with a bee. Her voice is taken away, so she can serve the stories of others.
To deceive the eye. Elsewhere, a young boy, the son of a fortune teller, passes by a drawing of a door graffitied onto a wall. The door has a bee insignia and a keyhole painted on. When he returns the next day, it’s gone.
January 2015 — Years later, there is an old book in a university library with no author. Zachary Ezra Rawlins, 24, finds the book, entitled Sweet Sorrows, and checks it out, out of curiosity. He begins to read, about a pirate and about an acolyte, but then it dawns on him the next part is about him. He’s the son of the fortune teller who saw the door. (The next section is about a dollhouse.) There’s no other parts about Zach, though he can see there are pages are missing from the book.
Invented Life A dollhouse sits in a room on a harbor in the Starless Sea. Over time, people add to it and a whole world is built up around it, with the original dollhouse at the center.
January 2015 — Zach runs into his friend, Katrina “Kat” Hawkins. She asks him to moderate a class on storytelling and he agrees. Afterwards, the librarian who checked out Sweet Sorrows to him, Elena, approaches. Out of curiosity about the book, she learned that it was donated from the Keating Foundation as part of a collection, and she gives him a list of the other books in the collection. Kat and Zach go with another friend, Lexi, to a bar for drinks.
There are three paths. This is one of them. Another path is that of the guardian. Their commitment to protecting books is tested over time and if they pass 12 tests, they are invited to join. A boy in a library is approached by a woman in a green scarf to watch over a book because he is being tested. Guardians are tattooed with a sword.
January 2015 — When Zach goes to inspect the other books in the collection, one of them goes missing (The Age of Fable or Beauties of Mythology). Then, searching online, Zach finds an image of a woman wearing a necklace with the bee and key insignia, taken at an annual literary party in 2014. The same event, a masquerade, is happening again in three days.
A knock upon the memory of a door. A girl plays in the woods and knocks on a door in the ground, which takes her to the Starless Sea.
Those who seek and those who find. There are many doorways into the Starless Sea all around the world, tucked away in various places. Each one leads to a harbor in the Starless Sea.
January 2015 — Zach checks into a Manhattan hotel to attend the literary masquerade at the Algonquin. At the party, Zach dances with a woman, helps to find a lost cat, and hears a storyteller tell a story about Fate and Time falling in love. In the story, their love interrupts the flow of time, so Fate is destroyed by the parliament of owls. The owl who eats Fate’s eyes gains the power of great sight and becomes The Owl King. However, a mouse saves Fate’s heart and keeps it safe, so occasionally Fate is still able to find a way to impact events. After the story is over, Zach finds a card in his pocket with a bee on it.
There are three paths. This is one of them. The third path is the bee keeper. The bee keepers wear keys and organize the books. They go through three periods of training and then choose one story to study, memorize and recite as a test. If selected, they are branded with a key. There used to be many keepers, but now there is only one.
January 2015 — The card indicates the names of the lions from the New York Public Library, a time (1:00 AM), and tells him to bring a flower. On the way, Zach runs into a woman dressed as a polar bear. At the library, Zach finds the storyteller from the party, Dorian. Dorian warns Zach that there are people (the Collector’s Club) want his book, Sweet Sorrows. Dorian also says that he can get Zach to the Starless Sea, but Zach needs to fetch a book for him from the Collector’s Club. Zach agrees, and Dorian gives him The Age of Fable or Beauties of Mythology (which Dorian took from the library) to replace it with. (Dorian holds on to the copy of Sweet Sorrows.)
Lost cities of Honey and Bone. Somewhere there’s a man lost in time, whose memories are a mix of stories and his own memories. He wanders around the Starless Sea, and the bee keepers ignore him, assuming he’s harmless.
January 2015 — Zach enters the Collector’s Club, a place decorated with labeled doorknobs. He sees a girl who had been in Kat’s class (the knitter), but he overhears her alert someone about him. He finds Dorian’s book, replaces it with the other book, and escapes. Outside, the polar bear woman tries to stop him. Zach reunites with Dorian, and they hurry over to a painted door, trying to get to there before the Collector’s Club can destroy the door (they keep the doorknobs from destroyed doors). Dorian tells Zach that the girl he danced with at the party, Mirabel, paints the doors. Zach goes through the door, but Dorian doesn’t make it before it is destroyed.
…Time fell in love with Fate. The pirate tells the girl many stories and afterwards she takes a key off the wall and sets him free. They kiss.
Interlude I: another place, another time
New Orleans, Louisiana, 14 years ago — A teen-aged girl painting a door on a wall gets interrupted by a fortune teller, Madame Love Rawlins, who invites her in for coffee. Madame Love gives the girl a deck of tarot cards.
Book II: Fortunes & Fables
The Star Merchant A travelling merchant who sells stars stops at a tavern. He meets another traveller who tells him a story about Fate and Time falling in love (the same one as above). When the merchant inquires about the traveller the next day, he’s informed that he was the only guest.
January 2015 — Zach finds himself in an antechamber. He’s instructed to roll six six-sided dice (he gets all hearts) and drink a honey-colored liquid. This allows him to proceed through a locked door. Inside, a man with a cat tells him this is a Harbor. A large sword is on display behind him. The man (a Keeper) gives Zach a locket to help him find his way back to this entrance, the Heart, and shows Zach to a room.
The Key Collector A man who collects keys has a house filled with keys. One day, a woman appears who is looking for a key. She finds the key she lost in his garden. With the key, she opens an invisible door and beckons the key collector to join her. They go through the door, and the key collector is never seen again.
January 2015 — Zach wakes and begins to read Dorian’s book, Fortunes & Fables (the book is in Arabic, but the words magically translate to English). A key slips out from its pages. Zach starts exploring this magical, endless place filled with books and runs into Mirabel. Zach tells Mirabel that the Collector’s Club has Dorian, and Mirabel suggests they go save him.
The Girl and the Feather A disowned princess moves to another kingdom where the Owl King reigns. She marries and has a baby girl, but right after her husband dies. Worried that the child is bad luck, she takes it to the Owl King for advice. At the Owl King’s castle, the child picks up a gold feather tailsman. The Owl King tells the princess to bring the girl back when she is grown. However, the princess dies before it happens, and the girl disappears. In other versions of the story, the girl goes back, but the castle is empty or she is never seen again. In a rarely told version, the girl returns, and she decides to stay at the castle.
January 2015 — On the elevator out, Mirabel offers Zach a story that she gives to him in the form of a candy that he eats. She also tells him that she was born at the Harbor. She leads him out a door that opens into The Strand bookstore in New York. They go to Starbucks where she orders a special drink (a “honey stardust”). A number written on the cup gets them entry into the Collector’s Club. Inside, they see Dorian’s body.
The Inn at the Edge of the World One night, a woman with pale skin and dark hair shows up at an inn during a storm. She is to meet somewhere there, but the innkeeper informs her there are no other guests. Instead, the innkeeper and the woman dine together and chat. She tells him a story about how every hundred years (or perhaps a few hundred or a thousand) the sun and moon disappear from the sky and meet at a secret location to talk. A few days later, a woman in a gold cloak with golden hair shows up. After the two women talk, the golden haired woman leaves. The innkeeper asks the pale woman to stay with him, but she sadly declines because “no mortal can love the moon. Not for long.”
January 2015 — Zach is knocked out and tied to a chair. The polar bear lady introduces herself as Allegra Cavallo. Allegra gives him tea and admits that they’ve been trying to destroy the doors to the Starless Sea. She says they do it to preserve and protect the place. Zach realizes that the Collector’s Club are Guardians. Allegra also tells him that Dorian is a Guardian and wanted Fortunes & Fables because it was the first book he was ever assigned to protect. Allegra demands that Zach write down everything he remembers from Sweet Sorrows, but then the lights go out.
The Three Swords A swordmaker makes an exquisite sword and asks a seer what he sees. The seer says that this sword will kill the King. The swordmaker does not wish to kill the King, nor does he wish to destroy the sword. Instead, he makes two identical swords and gives them to his three children, not knowing which is which, and leaves the rest up to fate and time. One son melts down his sword for metal. Another son becomes a duelist but loses his sword at the bottom of the sea. Finally his only daughter leaves hers in a case but practices with it often. One night, she dreams of the Owl King, who tells her she is to kill him, and so she does. When she wakes, the sword is gone and an owl is there. The owl remains with her for the rest of her days.
January 2015 — In the darkness, Mirabel comes to rescue Zach. They take Dorian (who is unconscious but alive) to a door, and they descend back into the Starless Sea.
The Story Sculptor A story sculptor who sculpts stories into exhibits is approached by a quiet mouse-like man. He asks her to hide something in a story for him, something that others will be desperate to find. The sculptor agrees to build a box for his treasure and works tirelessly for a year. She creates many stories and nests them all together with false turns and destroyed keys and blends all these elements to create this box. The man places his treasure inside. Later, those looking for the object find the sculptor, learn what happened and cut off her hands.
Interlude II: another place, another time
A now-forgotten city, a very, very long time ago — A pirate stands on the shore of the Starless Sea as the bells sound an alarm. The girl and pirate are stuck in a cage with no key, reliving their lives over and over again, together and them apart. They are found, but before she is killed, she sees a way to cross the ocean of time to a place where they can be free to be together.
Book III: The Ballad of Simon & Eleanor
The Naming of Things: Part One The girl (who found a door on the forest floor) finds herself in the Starless Sea. They are not sure where she came from to be able to return her. Instead, they give her a room and call her Eleanor.
January 2015 — Back at the Harbor, Dorian is still unconscious. Dorian has never entered before, so Zach rolls the dice on his behalf (gets a flush) and Mirabel drinks the liquid for him. As they tuck Dorian into bed, Zach feels dizzy and falls over.
A girl is not a rabbit, a rabbit is not a girl Eleanor explores the rooms of the sanctuary dressed in a bunny mask. She finds a burned room with a door that will not open. She writes a note and slips it under the door, but nothing happens. As she is playing elsewhere, the door opens momentarily and then closes again.
January 2015 — Zach awakes to Mirabel telling him Allegra must have poisoned the teacup he drank from. A girl named Rhyme, roughly his age, appears but doesn’t speak (she’s an acolyte). Dorian awakes and tells Zach he returned Sweet Sorrows to Zach’s coat pocket.
Time-crossed is not the same as star-crossed Simon Jonathan Keating lives with his uncle and aunt. When he turns 18, he receives a key and an address. There, he finds a overgrown cottage, belonging to his late mother (Jocelyn Simone Keating) and a door leading to the Harbor. He uses a broom to clear away the vines and goes down. In the antechamber, he rolls all crowns. Simon finds a row of doors with symbols on them (key, crown, sword, bee and feather). A note slides out from one with a feather, but no one is there, so he leaves his own note. Eleanor emerges from the door. She says she left the note eight years ago. She is surprised he found the Harbor, since most of the doors are gone now. They chat, and Eleanor goes to fetch her favorite book to show him, but the door disappears. Simon waits and ten minutes later, she returns with the book, but for Eleanor it has been six months. When Simon leaves the room, she disappears again.
January 2015 — Zach finds a burned room with a dollhouse at the center. A Persian cat starts to follow him around. In his pocket, he finds a note in the form of a riddle (“The Queen of the Bees has been waiting for you / Tales hidden within to be told / Bring her a key that has never been forged / And another made only of gold”).
Book Borrowing Simon decides to return to the cottage for now, but is stopped by the Keeper. Simon still has Eleanor’s book, Sweet Sorrows. To borrow it, Simon leaves the broom he brought with him in its place. Back in the cottage, Simon finds a deed to the cottage in his name. He returns to the Harbor, determined to wait for Eleanor. He reads Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell as he waits. When she finally shows up again, they sleep together.
January 2015 — Zach walks around, trying to puzzle out his riddle. Zach sees Mirabel with her deck of tarot cards and asks to borrow her necklace of keys and bees. Mirabel also shows him the Starless Sea, which is now a deep abyss because its waters have receded as people have left and not returned. Zach then follows Rhyme as she takes the book The Ballad of Simon & Eleanor out from the acolyte-only archive and places it on a table.
A Short Lecture on the Nature of Time Simon and Eleanor are nervous to leave the room they are in, lest they be parted by time, but they have no food or water. They try exiting through a different door from before, but once again Eleanor vanishes. Simon asks the Keeper what is going on. The Keeper determines Eleanor must be from the future if there is no record of her yet. The Keeper explains that time flows like a river, and Simon must have happened upon a room that has become detatched from the normal flow of time, like an inlet where the waters flow differently. The Keeper advises him not to look for her, but Simon determinedly heads towards the abyss of the Starless Sea where time is less reliable.
January 2015 — Zach overhears an intimate moment between Mirabel and the Keeper. Zach then sees his plastic hotel keycard and thinks of his riddle (“a key that has never been forged”). He goes to a statue of a woman covered in bees and places the keycard in its hand, which reveals a staircase.
The Naming of Things: Part Two Eleanor becomes pregnant and has a baby named Mirabel.
Interlude III: another place, another time
In a bar, Dorian watches Zach and his two friends (Kat and Lexi).
Book IV: Written in the Stars
A paper star folded from a page removed from a book A stag in the snow waits to be shot.
January 2015 — Zach descends the staircase as a cat follows him. He finds a crypt and a prophetic book telling him that “three things are lost in time / sword book man / find man”
A paper star with a single bent corner A nightmare: a man bound to a chair is fed papers with words written on them.
January 2015 — Zach returns to his room. He begins to read Rhyme’s book (Ballad of Simon & Eleanor), but the story stops mid-book and the rest is blank. He remembers the man lost in time in Sweet Sorrows and wonders if that’s Simon and if he’s supposed to find him. He also picks up an origami star and reads a nightmare written on it (someone walking, afraid of being eaten by a slithery thing).
Combined contents of several paper stars (one has been partially chewed by a cat) A painter, feeling uninspired, becomes an acolyte and chooses to give up an eye instead of her tongue. Afterwards, she realizes she has made a mistake, but it is too late.
January 2015 — Zach finds Dorian in a hidden room staring at a painting. They’re both feeling overwhelmed by all the clue, riddles and mysteries. Dorian says that the boy in Sweet Sorrows who was approached by the woman in a green scarf is him. He was in the Collector’s Club working with Allegra until one night everything changed. He also says that the Keating Foundation works in opposition to the Collector’s Club. As Dorian and Zach discuss the many connections between the stories in the books as well as Zach’s instruction to find the man lost in time, Dorian notices a wardrobe. He steps in and disappears.
a paper star that has been so mangled by circumstance and time that its shape is only vaguely recognizable as a star A fallen candelabra ignites a fire that burns down the dollhouse and its surrounding universe.
January 2015 — Zach follows Dorian into the wardrobe, into a room filled with doors. Zach then follows Dorian through a door that depicts a people dancing under the moon, leading to a ballroom. As he walks around, he gets snippets of a story, a continuation of the story about the moon. The Moon is determined to pursue her impossible love with the innkeeper, so she asks Death to spare the innkeeper, who agrees. She then asks Time for a space detached from time. Time agrees, but on the condition that the Moon helps Time and Fate find a way to be together. As Dorian and Zach dance (they’re gay, btw), the party fades away and then an explosion is heard.
a paper star splattered with gold paint The Starless Sea is rising and begins to flood the Harbor, beginning its destruction. The Owl King arrives.
January 2015 — Zach and Dorian tumble back into the wardrobe, and Dorian assures Zach that his feelings are genuine. As the clanking sound continues back at the Harbor, Zach realizes that something is broken and it is collapsing. At the Heart, there is a fissure in the ground, and the Keeper is arguing with Allegra, who has a gun. She tries to shoot Dorian, but the Keeper disarms her. Allegra grabs Dorian, and they both tumble into the fissure.
a paper star that has been unfolded and re-folded (…) The son of the fortune teller walks through the snow with a sword, the duplicates of which are now lost.
Interlude IV: another place, another time
en route to (& in) Sardinia, Italy, 20 years ago The painter (and acolyte) decides to leave the Harbor, never to return. She leaves a final painting and her paints, and exits on a beach, resuming her old identity as Allegra Cavallo. She destroys the door she came in through, keeping only the doorknob.
Book V: The Owl King
January 2015 — Mirabel is stuck in the wreckage of the antechamber, but Rhyme is safe. The Keeper tells Zach that he has lost Mirabel in a myriad of ways many times, but each time she eventually returns. She comes back in different forms, but it always ends in loss. (The Keeper is the pirate.) In the Heart, Zach sees a painting of himself holding a sword and Dorian, which the Keeper informs him was the last painting that Allegra completed before leaving. Mirabel emerges from the antechanber uninjured. Mirabel tells Zach how Allegra raised her and taught her to paint after her mother (Eleanor) vanished when she was five. Mirabel has a plan. She grabs the sword from the Heart, hands it to Zach and they get in the elevator.
Meanwhile, Dorian is falling in a cavern towards the Starless Sea. He lands in the Sea which is composed of honey. He starts to drown but it rescued by a woman on a ship. Allegra’s lifeless body also lays there. The captain of the ship is Eleanor.
Mirabel and Zach crash land the elevator in a ancient courtyard in the ruins of a city. It’s the remains of the Harbor before the tides went up and then back down. She tells Zach that she has lived many lives and once lived here. She tells him how people (Keating Foundation) were always trying to construct a place that existed out of time. Zach wonders if Mirabel is Fate, but then a pack of owls start flying towards them. As they run into the ruins to escape the owls, Zach loses Mirabel and finds himself falling into the darkness.
Eleanor offers to help Dorian return to the heart, but she warns that time passes slowly down here, so things may be different when he returns. She was once looking for Simon, but now she’s just an explorer. Eleanor drops off Allegra’s body at one of the old Harbors and bids it farewell. She then drops Dorian off near at the Inn, where he’ll be able to find a road back up. As a thank you, he gives Eleanor his book, Fortunes & Fables. As he heads towards it, he sees a man with the head of an Owl and then is enveloped in darkness.
Zach lands on a pile of statues. He is weary and cold. A voice tells him to give up and that this is all a dream, but another, which turns out to be Simon, wills him to keep walking and drags him into a temple. Zach asks Simon who the Owl King is and he responds that the crown gets passed down from story to story. Currently, it is a phenomenon and they are all parts of a story. Simon explains that he used to be part of the story, but stepped away from it when Allegra warned him never to return. An owl drops a paper star at Zach’s feet and he begins to read (“The son of the fortune teller stands before six doorways…”), but then he stops, not ready to know what happens next. When Simon does not recognize his own name, Zach gives him The Ballad of Simon & Eleanor to help him remember.
The Owl-Man walks Dorian to the Inn where the Innkeeper welcomes him and then gives him a beautiful box. The Innkeeper says his wife told him someone of his description would show up and to give it to him. Inside the box is a human heart.
Zach and Simon make their way to a tent and then follow a path. Zach finds himself in front of six doors with symbols on them (as was described on the paper star). He then takes out the paper star and tosses it into the fire, not wanting to know the fate that was written for him. He bypasses all those doors and sees a door painted on to the wall of the cavern, ready to choose his path.
Interlude IV: another place, another time
Hudson Valley, New York, 2 years from now Kat shows up at the house of Madame Love Rawlins. Kat is worried about Zach, who she fears will never return. She tells Madame Love about a game she has been working on with him in mind. It’s about Fate and Choice and involves nested stories and multiple endings and whatnot. Madame Love feels that Zach is alive and tells Kat not to worry.
Book VI: The Secret Diary of Katrina Hawkins
excerpt from the Secret Diary of Katrina Hawkins After “Z” (Zach) disappeared, Kat was questioned, but didn’t have much information for them. Kat tries to trace Zach’s footsteps by going through his things and looking into his impromptu trip to Manhattan. She sees news of a burned down building nearby, called the Collector’s Club. She goes online to ask about some symbols she saw in one of Zach’s notebooks and gets an anonymous response saying “The Owl King is coming.”
Zach is walking in a snow-covered field. He reaches his mother’s cottage, where a party is going on. Dorian is there, who says they met four years ago. Zach realizes this is all a concoction by his imagination and leaves. Then, as he is walking, what seems to be the real Dorian appears, expect he is both there and not there. Dorian tells him to find the Inn, and Zach gives him the sword. Zach then follows a stag into a clearing where an ice-and-snow version of Mirabel sits in a chair. It asks him to tell it a story.
The moon shows up at the Inn as Dorian plans to leave the safety of the Inn, taking with him the heart in the box. She warns him that when he leaves, time will become random and untethered and he won’t be able to trust things he sees for the voices in his head.
excerpt from the Secret Diary of Katrina Hawkins Kat starts to research the Owl King, which leads her to researching Jocelyn Simone Keating, born in 1812. Kat gets a warning telling her to step digging and knows people are watching her now. Allegra approaches Kat and invites her to join the Collector’s Club, but she refuses.
Zach tells Ice-Mirabel the story of himself, from the door as a young boy, all the way up until now. Then he starts to make things up, too. When he is done, she hands him a key and disappears. Then there is a door and he steps through it. He is then on the shores of the Starless Sea. Dorian is there with the sword. Zach then realizes Dorian has stabbed him and he is dead. He’s now in a paper world. He finds a boat and rows and wanders until he reaches a dollhouse. Inside, the bees tell him that he’s in an in-between place after death, and that the story sculptor said he was the “key”. The bees tell him that he’s at the end of the story, but Zach doesn’t want it to end.
Kat manages to find a trace of Simone Keating in a photo, labeled “meeting of the owls.” One days, Kat gets a text from someone asking to meet, which turns out to be “Sarah”, the girl that had been in Kat’s class (the knitter). She confirms that there’s a place they’re protecting. Kat also recalls a conversation she had once where a woman (Mirabel) told her a story about a sanctuary called the Starless Sea, which you could access via portals. There’s a kingdom inside it that’s stuck in time, but others want to destroy it.
The bees set up a meeting for Zach with the story sculptor, which turns out to be Mirabel. She says she’s been looking for a key and he’s it. She thanks him for finding Simon and bringing him back into the story. She also explains that Allegra saw the end coming (the arrival of Zach as the key) and wanted to prevent it. She thanks him, and then Zach begins to drown in the honey sea.
Rhyme realizes the end is finally here and goes to find the Keeper. They disappear into a door as the Starless Sea overtakes the Harbor.
Meanwhile, Dorian is filled with grief from having had to kill Zach. He sees a ship.
Afterwards: Something New and Something Next
once, not so long ago… Dorian is on Eleanor’s ship, navigating through the Starless Sea. Zach’s body lies there as well. Dorian takes the heart out of the box.
excerpt from the Secret Diary of Katrina Hawkins The Keating Foundation leaves a note asking to see Kat. She goes to an old building where there’s a painting of her. She opens a door.
…fate fell in love with time. Zach awakes, with a new heart beating in his chest. Dorian and Zach kiss.
not the single story she requested but many stories The book ends with Mirabel and the Keeper sitting in a car together. She flips over a card marked The Ending to show the other side, The Beginning.