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‘The Night Circus’ is the debut novel of Erin Morgenstern, released in 2011. I bought this book on Amazon after reading a Dooyoo review by someone who loved the book and since it seemed right up my street. That, plus its book cover is so aesthetically pleasing that I had just had to buy it hold it in my hands!
In 1886, Le Cirque des Rêves – The Circus of Dreams – magically opens. This is no ordinary circus; there is no promotion, but just appears one day out of nowhere without fanfare. It only opens in the evening and closes just before dawn. It has all the typical performers and then some: acrobats and fortune-tellers, but also tents of ice and various elements, with a huge bonfire in the center. Its draws many crowds and even dedicated fans as it tours the world each year.
But at the heart of the circus is the deadly contest between two mysterious men’s prodigies. Celia is the circus’s illusionist and daughter of the famous magician Prospero. Marco is a sorcerer’s apprentice and working more behind the scenes setting up more tents with his powers. Yet in this contest of magic and power beyond their control, can the two of them dare to be in love and survive their game?
The first thing I need to comment on is the hardcover book design. I know you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover but since this is an excellent book anyway I can let this slide! It’s a completely black and white colour scheme with the background being dark as night and the people on the cover and the lettering contrasting it in white. It fits the book perfectly and overall is very appealing and one that will certainly stand out on your shelf.
The actual story is one that won’t appeal to people who like a straightforward read. There are a lot of fantasy elements and an air of mystery with lots of events not always fully explained, but for me it fits with the themes discussed in the poem. Morgenstern makes the circus so appealing to the senses it easily came to life to me as much as to the actual spectators within the novel. It helps that the novel is structured so that we cut between the actual story and the presentation of different parts in the Cirque du Reves in a second-person narrative, which I felt was a good idea because as the reader experiences the circus first-hand, and so I learnt more about the mystery of the circus away from other characters’ point of view, plus it gives us a break from some of the sudden twists or cliffhangers in the plot that might have happened immediately before.
Most of the characters are very well-written, perhaps moreso the supporting cast than the two leads. Illusionist Celia Bowen starts as a very self-aware girl who grows into a woman who knows there’s more to the circus that even most of its retainers can see. Her determination to keep the circus running clashes with the contest she has been forced against her will to take part in, despite being unaware of its aims or (initially) who her opponent. I liked her willpower and could empathize with her at her saddest and frustrating moments of the story. Marco is sympathetic at first his mysterious master makes me grow up isolated and learning his skills with no company. Although Celia’s opponent, he doesn’t work directly in the circus but creating new tents with his powers and working under the circus manager. However I found it hard to really connect with his character even though he faces the same turmoil as Celia, plus he seemed to have a less developed personality than her as well, perhaps because he was almost too perfect an opponent and had fewer emotional attachments to other characters in the story.
The rest of the colourful cast include Celia’s father Prospero (aka Hector Bowen) and Marco’s apprentice “Mr. A. H –“ (aka “Alexander”), the mysterious masters whom keep many secrets from their apprentices, with the author making them distant from emotions and difficult to like. There are the twins Poppet and Widget Murray, the children of two performers whose life is covering during the circus’s run. They were my favourite characters because despite being children for most of the novel they are wise beyond their years and have their own special powers which serve great importance towards the end of the novel. Also there are the various people involved with the running of the circus with vibrant personalities, and as the conflict behind the scenes spiral out of control and some surprising pasts are revealed, I felt more sympathy these people than even the main characters sometimes, some of whom don’t have a happy ending. There is a B-plot with a young boy (later man) named Bailey who serves as a normal spectator who loves the circus, but later he too becomes embroiled in the main plot, particularly with the aforementioned Murray twins, serving a larger purpose than what I was initially expecting. Bailey is another empathetic character, as a young man who soon has to step up and face reality at home but is fascinated by The Circus of Dreams and its performers.
I was completely hooked with this novel, especially in the latter half when it seems everything is turned upside down by various events. By the end I really felt for all the characters and the actual fate of the circus itself, and the author wraps things up nicely while still leaving some points for me to ponder on after finishing the book.
‘The Night Circus’ is an incredible read which I really didn’t want to end. From the fantasy elements, the great characterization, compelling plot by the author’s appeal to the senses in her descriptions of the circus, it is a truly fascinating book. I keep flicking back through the pages just to read through my favourite scenes again since it was that satisfying. Hopefully the success of this book will lead to Erin Morgenstern writing more novels just like this one, and I will certainly be following her in the future!
‘The Night Circus’ is available as of this review for £8.58 (hardback)/£3.86 (paperback) from Amazon.