Review: The Night Circus

The Night Circus

Erin Morgenstern

387 Pages

2011

Publisher: Doubleday

Source: Public Library

The circus arrives without warning.

No announcements precede it, no paper notices on downtown posts and billboards, no mentions or advertisements in local newspapers.  It is simply there, when yesterday it was not.

Usually when I see a particular book being the center of discussion online, I try to wait until talk dies down before running out and reading it myself. With the R.I.P. challenge going on right now, I decided that The Night Circus sounded too good to pass up. I think the book is worth the hype it’s getting though there are a few things about it that was problematic.

The Night Circus is the tale of Celia Bowen and Marco, two gifted illusionists who are forced to compete against each other as adults by their mentors. Celia and Marco have no idea why they have to compete or that the tournament is to the death. With the help of a talented group, Marco’s mentor is able to pull off the perfect battleground for the pair – Le Cirque de Reves, a circus that’s only opened at night and is filled with wonderful attractions. The tournament doesn’t affect just the pair but also everyone around: from those who work for the circus to the people who attend almost every time they can to those who helped to create it. While many people think the circus is the best in the world, others know its true powers and those close to it will never be the same.

Forgive my vague description, but it’s hard to describe this book. Luckily for readers Morgenstern didn’t have that same problem. One of the book’s greatest strengths is that the descriptions are so vivid. The circus is not only the setting but also a character. Readers can easily imagine the black and white stripes of the tents, the red scarves of the circus’s most devoted followers, the dress that Celia wears that changes colors to match whoever she’s talking to at the moment. This is a great book to study to learn how to describe a setting.  Andi wrote about the book’s cover and design which sadly I missed since I was reading The Night Circus on Edison (my Kobo ereader).

I found some of the characters very interesting. The twins, Poppet and Widget, were a delight to read about as they roam around the circus with their new friend, Bailey. Not all the characters were as fleshed out as I would have preferred. Celia the child and teen who refused to answer to the name Miranda and had her fingertips sliced off by her father/mentor Prospero was much more interesting to read about than Celia the adult. The same goes with Marco though I think the only interesting thing about him was the thing about his physical appearance. Did anyone figure out who Marco’s mentor, the man in the grey suit, really is? I’m pretty sure that I did and was so happy with myself.

There’s so much that the author builds on in the book but there’s so much that also doesn’t get explained or isn’t as detailed like the back story of Tsukiko the contortionist. I really wished that readers knew more about Tsukiko along with Prospero and what exactly pushed this cold man to try his last trick. (It was an awesome trick.) I wouldn’t have cared if this book had turned into a chunkster (400+ pages) if it meant that I learned more about the characters I was interested in.

Besides some of the characters, another problem I had with this book is the plot. I was pretty let down by the disappointing climax that’s more of a small hill than a climax. That didn’t stop me from reading the book but the disappointment wasn’t something that I could easily overlook.

The Night Circus isn’t just some fantasy book about a circus. After reading it and letting everything about it turn over and over in my head, I’ve realized that the story of the two illusionists is also a story about storytelling, living your life to the fullest, and learning that no matter how powerful you are, there are some things you can’t always escape. Flaws and all, The Night Circus is an engaging read that I can easily recommend to those who enjoy fantasy. I look forward to reading more of Morgenstern’s work in the future. My rating: 5 out of 5.

One of my favorite quotes:

“Stories have changed, my dear boy,” the man in the grey suit says, his voice almost imperceptibly sad. “There are no more battles between good and evil, no monsters to slay, no maidens in need of rescue. Most maidens are perfectly capable of rescuing themselves in my experience, at least the ones worth something, in any case. There are no longer simple tales with quests and beasts and happy endings. The quests lack clarity of goal or path. The beasts take different forms and are difficult to recognize for what they are. And there are never really ending, happy or otherwise. Things keep going on, they overlap and blur, your story is part of your sister’s story is part of many other stories, and there is no telling where any of them may lead. Good and evil are a great deal more complex than a princess and a dragon, or a wolf and a scarlet-clad little girl. And is not the dragon the hero of his own story? Is not the wolf simply acting as a wolf should act? Though perhaps it is a singular wolf who goes to such lengths as to dress as a grandmother to toy with its prey.”

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28 thoughts on “Review: The Night Circus

  1. I am so glad to have read this positive review! I heard that this book was actually a product of NaNoWriMo, so I am now VERY motivated to read it.

    I thought I had missed the read athon, but I am so glad to find out that I still might be able to participate. I think I might be ready to get back into reading again.

  2. I am so pleased you loved it. I didn’t realise it had twins in and I hope to read it soon too. I didn’t realise it was a NaNoWriMo book either.

  3. I think I’ve reached a point where I have to wait a bit before I read this so I don’t ruin it with my expectations – but when I do get to it, I hope I’ll love it every bit as much as you did :)

  4. What a wonderful review! Though I loved this book unreservedly, Aarti and I discussed it, and a lot of the things that you mentioned bothered her too. She was a little disappointed with the character creation and the plot as well, but for me, it was something that I sort of just filled my own imagination around. It was a very unique and interesting book. Now I want to know who you thought the man in grey was!

  5. Great review, Vasilly. Like Nymeth, I’m going to let all the furor die down before I read this one. I am trying not to read any of the reviews, but had to read yours:)

  6. Woooonderful review of this one! I’m glad you enjoyed it so much, and thanks for pointing out the bits that didn’t work for you. I would’ve also liked to learn more about Tsukiko and some others in the circus.

  7. While I’m waiting for the paperback version to reach me, I’m enjoying the different reviews. It seems the first ones were raving, those who followed were a clear “nay” and the more recent ones went for the balanced approach. I’m glad for this because my expectations were threatening to become a problem.

  8. I’m so looking forward to this book, Vasilly! I hope to get round to it too. Maybe during the 24h readathon. Except that’s only 24 hours and I have a few books lined up already. Difficult choices!

  9. What a fantastic quote: thanks for typing it all in! (Doesn’t matter how long quotes about storytelling are: I can’t help reading them.) And your thoughts on this one have definitely nudged this one up my list.

  10. I completely agree with you. While I think I really enjoyed reading this book, once I stepped away a bit, I was less enamored with it. I didn’t like the plot inconsistencies and the characters just weren’t well-developed at all.

  11. Like you, I try to let the hype die down when a book gets as much attention as this one did. I’ll read this one at some point — just not yet! I’ve seen a few reviews, like yours, that outline a few of the book’s faults. I’m happy to have read those because they set my expectations a little lower, back down to attainable heights :-)

  12. I agree about the plot. The book was so lush in the descriptions, and I enjoyed reading them and so wished the night circus was real, but I wanted more things to happen. I never had a sense that anything was at stake, even after certain things happened to certain characters. The book was so dreamy and it never developed any sense of menace.

  13. I loved!!! loved!!! loved The Night Circus. I wished it was real! I see what you’re saying about the way the plot left so much unsatisfied and explained… I probably would have read the book if it were twice as long. I just loved to wander around in it.

    See you at the readathon this weekend!

  14. I adored this book. I guess I didn’t mind so much about the character development as it made them seem more mysterious and i was just so in love with the description of the circus

  15. I saw this on the new releases shelf of the library and was so surprised to see it there because I thought it would have a waitlist out the wazoo. So naturally I snatched it up. Haven’t started reading it yet though. I am going in with tempered expectations.

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