The Night Circus: Review

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The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern is one of those books that every person must read. There is a beautiful, enchanting quality to the writing and it truly is a spectacular work of magical storytelling. It will be a five-star read for some. For others like myself, it will be a three-star read, but yet I can still appreciate the book and its prevalence in pop culture. While I wasn't left satisfied by the end of the book, I am glad that I read it nevertheless. Read on for my review! Warning: minor spoilers ahead!

Goodreads Summary:

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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, this is a game in which only one can be left standing, and the circus is but the stage for a remarkable battle of imagination and will. Despite themselves, however, Celia and Marco tumble headfirst into love - a deep, magical love that makes the lights flicker and the room grow warm whenever they so much as brush hands. 

True love or not, the game must play out, and the fates of everyone involved, from the cast of extraordinary circus per­formers to the patrons, hang in the balance, suspended as precariously as the daring acrobats overhead. 

Written in rich, seductive prose, this spell-casting novel is a feast for the senses and the heart. 

MY REVIEW:

The Night Circus revolves around a- you guessed it!- a circus that travels the world. It features spectacular performers and mysteries. To the reader, these circus tents are clearly filled with magic and it can be maddening when the patrons of the circus still see them only as illusions and feats of wonder, as though they can't truly grasp the viability of real magic. 

You think, as you walk away from Le Cirque des Rêves and into the creeping dawn, that you felt more awake within the confines of the circus.
You are no longer quite certain which side of the fence is the dream.
— Erin Morgenstern, The Night Circus

In the midst of the circus, we have two magicians, Celia Bowen and Marco Alisdair. They were chosen from an early age by two ancient teachers to participate in a lengthy battle of endurance. Their magic stems from two different schools of thought. While Celia is masterful with living things, Marco's power comes from charms and written spellwork. They create bigger and bigger displays in the circus, the chosen venue for their battle, to outdo the other.

But perhaps "battle" isn't the right word for it. Nor "fierce competition" or "duel," as the book summary suggests. While we are introduced to Celia and Marco very early on in the book when they are first chosen by their teachers, they spend nearly half of the book not knowing who their competitor is. It's not a duel so much as it's kind of a quilt, and each magician is trying to add a flashier, more stunning square to it. Celia and Marco never display an ounce of malevolence towards the other- rather, they fall pretty madly in love. And it's the slowest, most agonizing burn ever. 

I have been surrounded by love letters you two have built each other for years, encased in tents.
— Erin Morgenstern, The Night Circus

There are subtle time jumps, character arcs for characters that I never really ended up caring for, and too many threads to follow- and they don't all necessarily come together in the end. The prose is beautiful, yes, but the plot is agonizingly slow without climax or conflict. When I closed the back cover of The Night Circus, I had to take a step back and think about why I felt so unsatisfied and bored, when I breezed through the book in two days and was so obviously compelled by the writing.

The best way I can describe that feeling is like I was being strung along. I felt like I was trapped in the circus and grasping at easter eggs, clues, hints of where the plot might take me. But I never quite understood the bigger picture- no one seemed to, except for a mysterious woman named Yukiko, a contortionist in the circus, and our two lovesick magicians. I, like the circus-goers affectionately dubbed reveurs, was trapped in the enchantment as well. The trap of The Night Circus is that it left me wanting more and more, without realizing that the magic I was looking for was right there, in the words and on the pages.  

So in retrospect, yes, I can appreciate the book and why it has such a loyal following. I can admit a certain sweetness to Marco and Celia's relationship. If you are a fan of lush prose and don't need points of conflict and climax as in traditional fiction and fantasy, then you will adore The Night Circus. If you enjoyed The Crown's Game (whose plot is eerily similar, hm....), then you will enjoy the magic in this book as well. If you prefer action in your fantasy and a little more bite to your magic, then The Night Circus may not be for you.

I rate The Night Circus 3/5 stars.

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