The Night Circus
by Erin Morgenstern
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. (Synopsis from Goodreads)
The Night Circus is a beautiful story, crafted in delicate layers and made to impress, like the cakes, pastries and fabulous meals that are so richly described within its pages. It glitters, and every page is a new delight, so that merely reading about the circus, about its patrons and performers and magical tents, would be enough to keep me devouring the book on and on. And this is a good thing, as the story itself is very slow, meandering and elusive, teasing us a little here and there before wandering off to gaze at some new spectacle. This is a book to indulge in, to simply enjoy as it takes your hand and leads you around the circus.
It probably goes without saying, in light of the above, that this book is well-written. Erin Morgenstern crafts her world and characters with wit and charm, with lavish descriptions that are nevertheless not over the top or pretentious. I was completely enchanted from the very first page, and despite the slow reveals and almost static story, I was hooked. I just kept reading, compulsively, until the end. I normally prefer story over style, and yet, this book proved itself to be exactly the kind that I love – one that makes me long for any break I can get just to dive into its world again.
The story revolves around a magical contest between two players: Celia, trained with practical methods, emotion and demonstration, and Marco, trained with more intellectual methods, with books and control. They are the pawns of two much older magicians, two men who have almost completely lost connection with the world. The location of the contest: the Night Circus, a fabulous project dreamed up by creator and perfectionist Chandresh, with the aid of some very talented people. Built on Marco and Celia’s magic, this becomes the ground for displaying their skills, and magical new exhibitions begin to appear. But the contest is not quite what it seems, and the two combatants are linked inextricably in more ways than one.
I found the magical contest fascinating and compelling, particularly in the second half of the story. What began as a beautiful, dream-like vision begins to get a little darker, and cracks start to appear. The people around Marco and Celia are getting hurt, and the magic is beginning to take its toll. With peripheral characters that I really cared about, the emotional highs and lows and shocks really affected me. Celia and Marco were actually weaker characters, but I was still utterly invested in their story, and really wanted them both to find happiness if they possibly could.
I only had one slight criticism of the book, and that was the ending. It felt weaker than the rest, perhaps because the book was built on a kind of illusion, on the mysterious contest that loses some of its power when revealed and explained. Perhaps because of the way in which the dilemma was resolved, which felt just a little bit underwhelming. Perhaps because the high stakes at this point didn’t quite ring true to me. However, this was redeemed by some excellent foreshadowing and building on themes, and the closing of the book on exactly the right note. And though I might have liked the ending to have been just a little more dramatic, and perhaps a tad darker, it certainly doesn’t diminish the whole.
I adored this book, and wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it. It’s beautiful, enchanting and engrossing, and though it moves at a slow, meandering pace, it never seems to lose focus. But be warned, The Night Circus will make you very hungry, and you may want to have a supply of chocolate mice standing by!