Book Review: The Night Circus
By: Erin Morgenstern
Published By: Doubleday
Publication Date: September 2011
Page Count: 387
Source: Purchased by Reviewer
Audience: Adult - Fantasy
To coin a phrase from one of my very best book-friends, The Night Circus is unlike anything I've ever read before... and there can't be a truer statement to make when it comes to this book. I can also say that it wasn't anything that I expected it to be. Was that a pleasant surprise? Yes and no... but yes for the most part. I will explain...
Set around the latter 1800's and spanning int the early 20th Century, at its core, the story is about an age-old rivalry between two instructors in magic... Hector Bowen (aka Prospero the Enchanter) and Mr. A. (Alexander) H-- (no... I didn't forget his last name, it is never given). And in this story, the Circus itself becomes the venue... the forum for the contest... and is befittingly dubbed Le Cirque des Reves -- Circus of Dreams -- another title that could not be more true.
The contest is essentially between Celia and Marco, the protege of these two rivaling instructors, but also involves a larger cast of characters with key roles in this challenge, unbeknownst to them. At the age of five, Celia is dropped at the doorstep of her estranged father, Hector, after her mother commits suicide. Hector can perform magic but the real talent is MAKING the magic look like an illusion so people will believe in it... not the other way around. After seeing that his daughter possesses some raw talent, and deciding he can work with her, he gets in touch with an old 'friend' (Alexander) and they start a new 'wager' on who is the better magical instructor. Alexander accepts the challenge and promptly searches for his own recruit and plucks nine-year-old Marco out of an orphanage. We don't know what he sees in the young, unremarkable Marco but unbeknownst to the young boy, he's been inducted into the grandest contest anyone could ever imagine (or never imagine). With little interaction with his seemingly uncaring adoptive father/instructor, Marco begins to wield magic in epic proportions. Concurrently, Celia is being taught to perfect her own magic, often through brutal and exhaustive lessons at the hands of her father, Hector.
Once Celia and Marco are older... they become intricately involved in the Circus itself. Celia, as an illusionist, and Marco as an assistant to the 'ring-master-behind-the-
scenes' who brought the circus together, Chandresh Lefevre. All the while, the stage is being set for the most unique Circus ever invented.
It is not unexpected that this Circus creates a lot of talk wherever it shows up. And it literally just shows up. Where there was once an empty field one day, is magically filled with an elaborate network of black and white tents the next morning. And furthermore, curious people show up at the gates only to find a sign that reads it opens at dusk and closes at dawn.
The Circus is constantly evolving with new spectacles being introduced by both Celia and Marco. For much of the story, one of them does not know who their opponent is... but they begin to admire each others' work...and that becomes the basis for their love story.
To be clear, this is NOT a romance novel... but at the core of it, there is a love story... and there IS a huge difference between those two statements. Celia and Marco's love manifests over time through their magic... and understanding each others' magic is sort of an intimate thing... more so than being in close physical proximity to each other. The author chose to make their love story a key element of the challenge but also made it very subtle. Perhaps, I was looking for a bit more of an EPIC love story... and that would really be my only complaint with The Night Circus.
The story is narrated through several of the character's perspectives... not just through Celia and Marco, but that did not make it hard to follow. I think the way the author pulled all the past, present and future events together was really quite brilliant and she created a beautiful story as a whole.
This is going to be difficult to sum up and put into words... I found that there was nothing that really drove the story... but I still found myself magically pulled in (??!!) I can't figure it out why both sentiments are true in my mind. For me, I wouldn't classify The Night Circus as "I couldn't put it down"... because I could... but it was just simply a very enjoyable read... and I did love it for its uniqueness and originality. Erin Morgenstern's writing was quite beautiful and illustrative and I swear that she possesses magical powers in those departments. I could almost smell the smells, see the visions described before me and feel amazed at watching the spectacle in my mind. It is one of the most imaginative books I've ever read. The concept is incredibly unique and a refreshing change of pace. I'd recommend it to anyone who loves a fantastical story but appreciates a subtle love story alongside.
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.