Long before its inception, the circus was destined to be something special. Visitors are charmed by the magical performances and the wondrous exhibits found in each black and white tent. Behind the scenes the circus is the site of a fierce competition between two magicians.
Celia and Marco have been trained for this competition from a young age as their instructors pit them against each other determined to see which magician (and which trainer) is superior. Both are warned to avoid the other, to keep their identity secret, but soon enough Celia and Marco crash into each other and into a dangerous love that threatens the contest.
All things must end and if this competition doesn’t have a clear victor it could have devastating consequences for Celia, Marco, and everyone who has come to call the circus home in The Night Circus (2011) by Erin Morgenstern.
Morgenstern’s debut novel hardly needs any introduction. I came late to this one after attempting (and, quite honestly, failing) to enjoy the author’s second novel The Starless Sea.
The Night Circus is a nonlinear story told across decades as our protagonists first begin their training through to the explosive conclusion of their competition. The sprawling story jumps back and forth in time while following multiple characters in close third person and spanning the globe as Le Cirque des Rêves travels to different locations.
Compared to such an elaborate setting and complex world, some of the characters fail to become fully realized. The story very clearly centers Celia and Marco while introducing others who become integral either to the circus or the contest–or both in some cases–although some feel closer to a deus ex machina than true characters in the story. The book also falls short of giving every character their due when it comes to a true ending.
It’s also worth mentioning that the only characters who are not white fall dangerously close to stereotypes with Tsukiko the inscrutable and enigmatic Japanese contortionist and Chandresh the eccentric and boisterous circus founder who is half Indian.
Morgenstern’s background as a visual artist is obvious in her prose which is extremely evocative and immediately draws readers into the circus as well as each and every one of Celia and Marco’s elaborate illusions. Intervals throughout the novel also pull readers into the story with sections told in second person that position the reader as a vital participant in the circus.
Much like the timeless Le Cirque des Rêves itself, The Night Circus is visually stunning, immediately clever, and often bittersweet. Recommended for readers looking for a fantasy with a setting in which they can luxuriate.
Possible Pairings: Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke, The Museum of Extraordinary Things by Alice Hoffman, A Criminal Magic by Lee Kelly, Caraval by Stephanie Garber, The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by V. E. Schwab, Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor