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 both, this is a game in which only one can be left standing. Despite the high stakes, Celia and Marco soon tumble headfirst into love, setting off a domino effect of dangerous consequences, and leaving the lives of everyone, from the performers to the patrons, hanging in the balance.
The Night Circus
In the first pages of The Night Circus, the reader is introduced to Celia Bowen, a young girl who is sent to live with her father Prospero, whom she has never met. He is a world famous magician whose show is created using genuine magic – not illusions. Soon after Celia’s arrival, Prospero discovers she has the same abilities as he, and so begins her training.
After a few years of relentless training with her father, (including him slicing her fingertips open so she can learn to heal herself) Celia finds herself bound in a challenge with an unknown opponent. She is not told how long it will last, how she is supposed to win, or why she is being forced to play this game. Celia’s opponent in this twisted challenge is Marco, a young boy plucked from an orphanage and trained by her father’s nemesis, Mr. A. H.
In what can only be described as a grudge match, both Prospero and Mr. A.H. teach their proteges in their preferred disciplines. Prospero opting to teach Celia to control her world through manipulations, and Mr. A.H. showing Marco how to bind and control using charms and spells. Old school vs. new school, or natural talent vs. practice if you will.
Fast forward 15 or so years and both magicians become integral parts of Le Cirque des Rêves (The Circus of Dreams). Celia as the resident illusionist and Marco as assistant to the circus creator, although the reader discovers his involvement with the circus stretches far beyond paying the bills. The circus becomes the venue for their challenge and they compete by creating different tents and attractions in an attempt to out do each other.
Eventually, it is revealed to the two magicians that there can be only one winner of what is ultimately a 20-year long duel. The winner will be the survivor.
What I Liked: The first thing I will say about the book is that it creates a beautiful backdrop for the story. Morgenstern does an excellent job in her description of the circus, its performers, and the intricacies of how the circus affects and alters people’s lives. The way she describes the circus tents and the emotions they evoke is truly fascinating.
I realize this seems very minuscule compared to the thoughts that follow on what I didn’t like, but I assure you it’s not. The majority of this book is descriptions: what is inside the tents, what the performers are wearing, what the circus smells like, etc. When I say this is the only feature of Morgenstern’s writing I liked, understand I am referring to an overwhelming majority of the book.
What I Didn’t Like: My major complaint with this novel was that I didn’t feel the same effort was put forth to develop the plot as there was to describe the settings. After 50 or so pages, I was confused, and a little bored. I also had a problem with the time management of this novel. Aside from constantly switching from third to first person narrative, the chapters waver between past and present time – making the story even harder to follow.
Speaking of time…the main characters don’t even speak to each other until halfway through the book and then we immediately fast forward three years and Marco is professing his love for Celia. Umm….I think I missed something here. As a reader, I’m not going to believe they are in love just because the story says so, I have to be convinced.
My final grievance with The Night Circus is that for a novel that is touted as a deadly and magical love story, there’s not much to back it up.
The back copy of the book (see above) promises a deadly fight between two magicians locked in fierce competition, but what the reader really gets is Celia and Marco crafting circus tents completely independent from each other. She from her corner of the circus, and he from his office in London. Seriously!? This is your idea of a deadly duel?
Despite the awkward duel/love story, there are several other side stories that make the book more bearable….or at least move the story along. Like the Rêveurs (dreamers) who follow the circus from town to town, wearing only black and white with a pop of red; proclaiming their allegiance to the circus. Or a young boy named Bailey who falls in love with the circus, its performers and the freedom it represents. Those were the stories I identified with, not the translucent main characters.
If I had to give this novel a rating, I would give it 2.5 out of 5 stars. It was a struggle to get through at times, and others I simply couldn’t put it down. Even now, a few days after finishing the book, I still can’t decide if I liked it.
My recommendation: Buy it when it goes on sale and understand it will be nothing like what you expected.
Until next time friends,