The Night Circus
By: Erin Morgenstern
Published date: September 2011
Overall Rating: 5 out of 5
OK, first I will acknowledge that it’s tough to call a book a perfect book. This is not a perfect book, despite the 5 star rating. It is, however, by far the best book I’ve read in a very, very long time. All the hype it has received (and there is plenty of it) is completely deserved. You really should go pick it up right now (if, like me, you were behind the times in reading it)!
The Night Circus, or Cirque des Reves, is a fantastical place that appears mysteriously in the night and flits in and out of the lives of its attendees and fanatics. It also appears and acts rather mysteriously in the lives of its creators and participants. The circus itself is truly wonderful, in that it is a thing of wonder, and magical (in a literal sense). The circus is the first thing that has to be discussed in the book, because it is in many ways one of the most real and vibrant characters of it, in addition to providing a backdrop for all of the fascinating people who wander into its domain throughout the book. And it is fantastically written; Morgenstern has a real talent for making a place seem real with her words. The circus is beautiful, fascinating, and I challenge any reader not to desperately be a part of it, even if you don’t conventionally read fantasy literature.
Despite all that, the circus isn’t really what the book is about (or, at least isn’t the only main thing). The main conflict of the story comes from two young magicians who come of age and rise within the circus family. Due to a challenge issued when both were young, Celia and Marco are inextricably linked to both the circus and each other, and find themselves slowly falling in love amidst a battle that necessarily destroys one of them. Their story is the center of this novel, but it is hardly the only one. Around them are dozens of other stories of people connected with the circus. Another thing that Morgenstern does absolutely expertly is making each of those stories completely realized, and making each feel as focused and important to the novel. There are so many interesting happinesses and tragedies to this book, and the love story is only one of them.
It is a well-turned love story. Leaping off from the so-far-past-cliche-it’s-cliche Romeo and Juliet style tale of star-crossed lovers, Morgenstern creates two interesting characters who are both driven by their love, but also by their history, by selfishness, and by a need to do something greater for the circus. These are truly magical people, and not just for their powers, but they also feel like real people in a way that you wouldn’t really expect from the average fairy tale.
For me, this book felt like a fairy tale for adults. There’s so much nuance to Morgenstern’s writing, and there is a lot to unpack in these interlocking stories, but what I’m left with beyond all of that is a feeling of real magic and joy. The circus is otherworldly, and that’s the feeling that readers will find themselves left with after reading.
Even if you don’t typically read fantasy, I strongly encourage all readers to give this book a try (and there is a chapter preview on the author’s website to get you started). There’s something in it for all of us (fantasy, romance, history, or just beautiful writing), and I can’t say enough how much I enjoyed it. The writing is tight, while still descriptive; the plotting is interesting and often unexpected; and the world is a beautiful one, one that I hope to have an opportunity to spend more time in some day.