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.
I should not read circus books. That is what I have officially learned. With this book, as was the case with Mechanique by Genevieve Valentine, there was a lot to appreciate, but there was little to make me actually care about the story in question. Both feature a magical circus in which the performers are magically intertwined with the circus’ existence. Both are written with stylized language. Both books also feature characters I was hard-pressed to care about. (I would say that Mechanique did a better job.) All that being said, this book definitely stands on its own, as it is telling a very different story and uses its own writing style to do so.
The language is intriguing. By themselves, the words aren’t esoteric, but the author combines them in such a way that all of her phrases, scenes, and descriptions feel elegant and sumptuous. Erin Morgenstern’s writing is very sensual – every single tent and circus act she describes evokes a sense of wonder and mystery that you can’t help but be drawn into this liminal space of magic where everything there feels real. Every time she described the exquisite meals served in the Midnight Dinners and the costumes various people wore, all I could do was sit there and long to taste the food and see the sights for myself. I particularly loved how she wrote the construction of the clock that’s partially responsible for keeping the entire circus going. Language-wise, Erin Morgenstern does a terrific job at bringing to life the evocative world that is the Night Circus.
That being said, beautiful language was the only thing holding the book together. And while that’s nothing to sneeze at, it’s like icing – eat too much of it and you start longing for something less sweet and more substantial. Some characters are given more time and attention than others, such as Celia, Marco, and Bailey, but all of them felt as flat as cardboard to me. There is a conflict in the form of the challenge Celia and Marco are supposed to compete against each other in, there is no sense of urgency or a need to worry about the outcome. Even when the terms of the challenge are eventually revealed, there was no reason for me to care. I was given nothing about Celia or Marco to make me care about their fates or see them as individuals with their own wants and desires. Bailey fares a little better; he actually comes off as a normal kid, and so his wonder and amazement of the circus feels genuine. Poppet and Widget were also adorable and fun to read about. However, for the most part, the characters felt like they were written to fit in with the world of the circus rather than having the circus organically emerge from the characters.
Also, after a while, the mysteriousness of peoples’ conversations and motives started to bother me. Almost all of the characters speak in this vague manner where they’re always hiding their emotions or not saying what they mean or having hidden meanings under everything. I mean, for the love of God, give me something about these characters to make me think they’re actually people! The mystery was too much.
The fact that this book is 387 pages long and I can’t think of anything more to write about it says it all. It’s a beautifully written book and this particular circus is as clever and magical as any fictional circus out there. But it’s the type of book you read for the circus, the atmosphere, and the mysterious nature of it all. It’s pretty and ornamental. If you want a book with actual meat on its bones, look elsewhere.
Disclosure – library