Tuesday, May 10, 2011

The Night Circus

A circus is supposed to be magical and is often a little bit scary (clowns, hello!). The Night Circus is unlike any other circus in the world, but magical it is, and if its performers knew the true nature of their stage, they would be scared, and with good reason. But as you read The Night Circus, a novel by Erin Morgenstern (adult fiction, for once!), it is nothing but pure magic, in both the literal and figurative senses. Sometimes you enter the circus as an outsider, enjoying the scents and miracles within, but most often, you get front row seats to the inner happenings, a backstage pass.

In The Night Circus, two old magicians with real magic each select a student to compete against the other in a challenge. It's not immediately clear what the rules are or how the winner will be determined. Hector chooses his daughter Celia, and Alexander chooses a random orphan named Marco. They train them in very different ways from childhood through their teens and then place them on their "stage," a unique circus especially designed for the challenge and with higher stakes than any challenge before as this one is public and involves a great number of outsiders.

The circus is a huge success from the beginning. Everything about it is designed to be intimate and spectacular. Only performers with unique shows and talents can participate, and the circus is open to audiences only from sundown to dawn, appearing out of nowhere, leaving without a trace. But the circus is truly magical because of the influences of Celia and Marco, each leaving their mark, creating more and more illusions as the years progress, neither quite understanding how to compete against the other, each beginning to love the other's work...and eventually each other. Gentle souls that they are, they keep the circus in balance, protecting it and the other performers.

But they are bound by magic, and in the end, there can be only one winner.

Magical, magical, magical to the very last page! How could you not love this book? It fascinates you with the best parts of the circus and draws you in with its mystery. In certain ways, it is very like a mystery as you discover more and more of the secrets of the circus and learn, together with the competing magicians, just what their challenge involves. The circus is also a complete mystery to its audience, which the reader is sometimes made to feel a part of even though we often have the inside scoop, and we can identify with audience characters, especially those who become attached to the circus in a deeper way than the average paying customer. It's a cleverly written book, making the reader feel as though opening its pages is entering through the gates of the circus itself. A normal circus is intriguing enough but often somewhat in-your-face and scary. Thankfully, there are no clowns in this book, and even the circus tents are set up intimately so that no performer is haggling anyone or persuading anyone to visit his tent. Visitors get to visit the tents they want at their own pace. The circus is inviting, enticing, and as a reader, you completely feel its pull and warmth.

The only other book I can think of to compare The Night Circus to is The Prestige (also a movie), though I couldn't say for sure, only ever having seen the movie and not having read the book. In The Prestige, however, the explanations are all scientific (though in the realm of science fiction). In The Night Circus, everything is real magic. For all of you who are more into movies than books, there is another similarity between the two. Summit Entertainment has purchased the film rights to this book, and I wouldn't be surprised to find the movie out within a couple years.

My short word of caution on this book involves, unsurprisingly, magic itself. In a book like this, no form of magic bothers me. Tarot card reading is mixed in with the ability to disappear or heal oneself. Obviously, in the real world, people can't disappear, but they do read tarot cards, and I would normally discourage a person from being involved with something like that. In this book, it's all on the same level, impossible magic next to real-world "magic," lending the real-world magic an air of fantasy, putting it all in the realm of fiction. In such a case, I don't have a problem with tarot cards, because they aren't meant to be believed any more than any other magic in the story. But if a conscience-abiding reader cannot, or does not want to, separate real-world magic from fiction like that, I would advise against reading this story. That's my only disclaimer.

I can't imagine the movie capturing even half the book, but I do look forward to visiting the circus again in that way one day. Probably by then, I will have forgotten enough of the book to be captured all over again by the magic. I can only hope!

Look for The Night Circus in hardcover in September of this year.


  1. Yay, you were able to comment! Thanks! And yes, I highly recommend this pleasurable read! It's just fun!

  2. A wonderful and insightful review.

  3. This is one of the most anticipated books of the year- its author received a pretty massive advance from Doubleday and the rights to the movie adaptation have already been purchased by the makers of Twilight (EEK). I generally am wary of hype and am nearly always wary of novels about the circus. But the cover on this one was too great to resist!


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