“The circus arrives without warning. No announcements precede it. It is simply there, when yesterday it was not”
This is a story about magic, romance, and the power of stories, all set up in a vague competition requiring the two participants to hold everything in balance. Celia Bowen and Marco Alisdair have been bound together as part of a game set on them by their enchanter mentors. They each are to maintain parts of the vast Night Circus while creating new exhibitions of magic and wonder, and they cannot know the rules of this game, or how the winner is decided. As the circus grows so do the pressures, Maro and Celia begin to seek each other out and fall in love, but time begins to work against them as they fight harder to finish the game and hold the circus in balance.
This is one of my favorite books, so reviewing it in an impartial manner (I’d considered typing “JUST GO READ THIS BOOK, YOU’LL LIKE IT I PROMISE” under the cut) has been difficult, and I hope that I’ve done Morgenstern’s work justice.
Moregenstern pulls the reader into the circus through her language, she creates images that are vivid and real. So real that even the most unbelievable instances within the circus feel as if you could reach out and touch them; the snow in the Ice Garden, the candles on the Wishing Tree, the acrobats, or the many wonders in the Labyrinth of enchantments. She does this through the story itself, but by also weaving in chapters written int he second person, allowing the reader to explore the circus further
“You follow the sound of a flute into a hidden corner, the hypnotic melody beckoning you closer. Seated on the ground, nestled in an alcove on striped silk pillows, are two women. One plays the flute you heard. A burning coil of incense sits between them, along with a large black-lidded basket.
A small audience is gathering. The other woman carefully removes the lid from the basket before taking out a flute of her own and adding a counter-melody to the first.
Two white cobras coil around each other as they rise from the woven basket, in perfect time with the music. For a moment they seem to be one snake and not two, and then they separate again, moving down along the sides of the basket, gliding onto the ground quite close to your feet” (429).
The main story of this novel would have no reason to show this scene, and many of the second person chapters are moments like these, things that don’t add to the plot but make the setting feel more real. They allow readers to fill the spaces further with these images and ones from their own imagination. The circus becomes a living breathing stage for the competition.
The goal of the competition is to set the two mentors, Mr. AH and Prospero the Enchanter’s different methods of teaching magic against each other and see which of them can choose a stronger player. The story moves slowly through this. Celia and Marco begin discovering their strengths, and each other, they begin to play off of one another and increase the web that weaves every member of the circus together. They spend a long time feeling for their competitor’s style, trying to figure out how to win. When Marco binds the circus to himself, Celia feels it and knows that the game has begun. “She is still unsure who her opponent is, but whatever move has just been made, it has rattled her” (128).
The game involves everyone that has anything to do with the circus from those who started it, those who perform in it, to a network of devoted fans known as the rêveurs. Often unconnected actions have unforeseen consequences for those circling the circus and Celia and Marco have to find ways to deal with the responsibility of holding onto the world around them without breaking under the stress. This book takes you into the wild world of the circus and this competition.
Recommendation: As I said at the start of this review, this is one of my favorite books and if I wasn’t trying to make this blog a more professional space the whole review probably would have been me screaming at you, dear reader, to read this book. But I understand that this may not be the best book for everyone, so if you love magical realism, enchantments, a more believable romance than Twilight, and are looking for some sort of escape from the world for a weekend (or a day depending on how fast you read) go find this book.