“The Night Circus” by Erin Morgenstern

The Night Circus

The Night Circus

I’d heard about “The Night Circus” for a while before I finally got around to reading it. And when I first started it, I wasn’t sure if I actually liked it or not. But by the end, not only had I warmed to it, I was enthralled by it.

It’s a strange, initially slow-moving piece of magic realism, vaguely reminiscent of something by Peter Hoeg, maybe “The History of Danish Dreams,” which also features a circus. However, “The Night Circus” is less overtly bizarre than that. Its underlying story is one of magic and romance, and it sticks close enough to those genres that adventurous readers of fantasy and romance will probably enjoy it, while also keeping enough of a foot in literary fiction that fans of that genre will most likely get a lot out of it as well.

The story, which is told in semi-chronological order, but with lots of jumping back and forth between characters, settings, and years, is of a magical competition between two unwilling opponents. Celia, a magician’s daughter, and Marco, a magician’s apprentice, were bound by their respective caretakers to the competition as small children, and now, as adults, must carry it out or suffer the consequences–magical binding tends to be rather more forceful than mere paper contracts. The venue is a circus, created specially for the purpose, where all the magic is real.

Although there are multiple viewpoint characters, all of them interesting in their own right, the true star of the show is the circus itself, which is described in lush, vivid detail. The tents and attractions come to life on the page, taking the reader there until you can practically smell the tantalizing aroma of caramel and woodsmoke that infuses the circus’s air. Traveling circuses can often seem like tawdry, disappointing things; this circus, though, provides the promise of the circus as it should be. So, next time the circus comes to town, maybe don’t go and see a bunch of sad elephants being tormented. Read “The Night Circus” instead.

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