Book Review of The Night Circus: A Magically Woven Playing Field that Brings Dreams to Reality

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Some fantasy books read like entertaining tidbits of magic and amusement splashed on a page by authors with vivid imaginations. Others read like literature – truly appealing to the intelligent reader in all of us – literature. The Night Circus is both.

Author Erin Morgenstern is a master of imagery. She creates a world in this book that is so integrated in all of its elements and vivid in the feeling that it evokes, that the world, Le Cirque des Rêves (the circus of dreams) is more like a character, a main character, than just the backdrop to a story. Morgenstern is most impressive as a debut author because as she builds this world she never slips – the tone of her writing never wavers. The feelings evoked from the circus never stray from aligning with what it so clearly is presented as being. She is so complete in her world building that she is already being compared to J.K Rowling and Summit Entertainment (the production company behind the Twilight film franchise) has already bought the rights to the motion picture. Of course they have! Who would read this book and not immediately crave to visually experience everything that Morgenstern is describing?

The book begins with this:

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.

And between every few chapters the book pulls you in, quite personally, by describing exactly what you are doing and experiencing and sensing as you explore the circus:

You walk down a hallway papered in playing cards, row upon row of clubs and spades. Lanterns fashioned from additional cards hang above, swinging gently as you pass by.

A door at the end of the hall leads to a spiraling iron staircase.

The stairs go both up and down. You go up, finding a trapdoor in the ceiling. The room it opens into is full of feathers that flutter downward. When you walk through them, they fall like snow over the door in the floor, obscuring it from sight…

 

As you are experiencing the circus and the book as an outsider, you, with your special vantage point as a reader, are also experiencing it from the lives of the circus performers as they are magically manipulated through this world that is their lives. You are one of the few that understands that the illusions are real. The magic of the circus is real. And it is all being controlled and maintained by two ever-tiring figures who were forced into this role that they play when they were mere children.

Celia and Marco are part of a game that has been constructed by others. Their lives are a constant duel of magic to see who is the stronger magician, who is more imaginative, and most importantly, who will survive. But the makers of the game had not counted on Celia and Marco becoming most stubbornly in love with one another.

If I had any wish for something to be different in this book it would be that I wish I could have known these characters more intimately. They are forced by their living situations to be aloof and reserved. But they seemed partially hidden even to the reader at times. My favorite character was the one who immediately came across as the most sincere and most able to love – Bailey. His presence in the book is, at first, a bit of a mystery. We are learning about him and his life with absolutely no idea what he has to do with the greater picture of the game being conducted in on the playing field of the circus. But he is hard not to accept and like none-the-less. And ultimately, he is an understated blessing for the book.

I fell in love with the premise of The Night Circus back when the trailer below first came out. I was lucky enough to see Erin Morgenstern at BEA and receive a signed copy of the book. This young, first-time author looked overwhelmed and almost a little embarrassed over all the praise she was receiving for the book. It was endearing and adorable and I am happy for her success.

With that I will leave you with a quote from the book that is, originally, a quote from Shakespeare’s The Tempest. It sums up the feel of this novel perfectly:

We are such stuff as dreams are made on; and our little life is rounded with a sleep…

 

Oh, and to my fellow Lytherus writers – I TOTALLY claim the movie review. : )

 

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