Review: The Night Circus

Published July 3, 2012, 516 pages

Author: Erin Morgenstern

Overview from Goodreads:

The circus arrives without warning. No announcements precede it. It is simply there, when yesterday it was not. Within the black-and-white striped canvas tents is an utterly unique experience full of breathtaking amazements. It is called Le Cirque des Rêves, and it is only open at night.

But behind the scenes, a fierce competition is underway—a duel between two young magicians, Celia and Marco, who have been trained since childhood expressly for this purpose by their mercurial instructors. Unbeknownst to them, this is a game in which only one can be left standing, and the circus is but the stage for a remarkable battle of imagination and will. Despite themselves, however, Celia and Marco tumble headfirst into love—a deep, magical love that makes the lights flicker and the room grow warm whenever they so much as brush hands.

True love or not, the game must play out, and the fates of everyone involved, from the cast of extraordinary circus performers to the patrons, hang in the balance, suspended as precariously as the daring acrobats overhead.

Written in rich, seductive prose, this spell-casting novel is a feast for the senses and the heart. 

Personal Review

After reading rave reviews about this novel, I decided to pick it up and see what all the hype was about. I fully expected it to not live up to my higher expectations, but I could not have been more wrong. This author masters imagery and you can fully imagine the entire novel play in your mind as your read each phrase. Each tent at the circus comes to life with its mystic and wonder that it wavers between the possible and impossible. The characters are mysterious even to the reader, but they slowly reveal themselves as you move through the chapters.

Our two main magicians are Celia and Marco (although the novel goes back and forth in the writing calling them illusionists at one point, but then calling them magicians at other times – they are similar words, but they are not exactly the same). It was hard to tell if there was meaning behind the change of description for the characters or if it was just random wording. My only other negative would be the pace of the story compared to what I was expecting based on the description. The book promises a “fierce competition” between the two main characters, but the actual competition isn’t fully explored until three-quarters or so into the novel. Celia and Marco both “compete” with each other early on in the book, but it doesn’t fully come to light until much later. It does build up the tension for the reader because you find yourself reading more and more trying to figure out what the competition is and how it will end.

There is actually a third main character not listed in the description. The Night Circus itself becomes a character as all the different tents are described, people lining up when they find that’s it arrived in their town, the magic filled environment when you step through the gates. The majority of the writing places the circus at its center so what normally would be only a location becomes a character with its own personality. The black and white themed tents with its enchanting clock and fire basin is purely enchanting and I commend the writer for writing such brilliant imagery.

The novel itself isn’t plot-driven as similar types of events are repeated again and again, the details may change slightly (the type of illusions, the setting of either the circus or its surrounding town, etc), but the overall picture stays the same. Very little happens to move the plot forward (It does happen, but at a much slower pace then you would expect based on the book’s description). There are a lot more characters to keep track of, such as Bailey, Poppet, and Widget, that all play a central role in the novel as well, which makes it difficult sometimes to figure out your main focus. Despite all of this, I greatly enjoyed reading this novel and I would place it on my re-reading list. There is a lot of information described so it would be nice to re-read and picture it in even more detail in my mind.

5 thoughts on “Review: The Night Circus

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