The Night Circus is a phantasmagorical fairy tale set in Victorian London and tells the story of wandering magical circus that is open only from sunset to sunrise.
Le Cirque des Rêves, the Circus of Dreams, features such wonders and “ethereal enigmas” as a blooming garden made all of ice, acrobats soaring without a net, and a vertical cloud maze where patrons who get lost simply step off and float gently to the floor.
The circus serves a darker purpose beyond entertainment and profit. The magicians Prospero the Enchanter and the enigmatic Mr. A.H— groom their young proteges, Celia Bowen and Marco Alisdair, to proxy their rivalry with the exhibits as a stage.
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.
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.
I found this book neither boring or overwhelming. It was simply a decent read. It wasn’t what I was expecting based on summaries I have read across the internet which was a little disheartening.
Firstly, I will commend Morgenstern for her writing. The descriptions of the circus itself were actually intricate and really beautiful. Significantly, the description of the the clock that Herr Theissen, a clockmaker, makes for the circus. Morgernstern really tries to make the reader visualise Le Cirque des Rêves and make it as though they are there. It was easy to get swept up in the atmosphere of this dreamy circus where anything and everything is possible.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s a beautifully written book, I just don’t think that it was well established what kind of story Morgenstern was trying to tell. It’s touted as a novel about a competition between two apprentices who are training to battle to the death, but the story couldn’t be further from that. There is no action-packed, magical dual between Marco and Celia. All we get is sudden, yet inevitable, love story. The dual doesn’t happen which is probably the thing that disappointed me the most.
I liked getting to know the illusionist, Celia, and bowler hat boy, Marco and did root for them fall in love but their relationship was just so immediate. Yes, it was sweet and from the little bits of conversation and rapport we got from them, Marco is a charming fellow.
It just all felt very rushed and got watered down from the other story-lines in the book. I liked Bailey’s story and how his adoration for the circus and Poppet, a performer, leads him to abandon the life his family have planned for him and join Le Cirque des Rêves. I thought it was a sweet story and probably more fleshed out than the main romance of Celia and Marco which is a problem. It often felt like Morgenstern was trying to cram three stories that could have been separate tales into one. The lonely, lost boy who runs to join the circus which is the only place he belongs, the battle of lovestruck magicians and the fantastic circus set up by Chandresh which has a large fan club called the ‘Rêveurs’ who follow it wherever it goes.
Even with Morgenstern’s beautiful descriptions, The Night Circus felt muddled and bogged down with all these different stories and loose ends. Personally, I would have rather if Morgenstern had stuck to one and properly take time to develop it and have a single focused plot than several ones running simultaneously. With some books it works, but with The Night Circus it just didn’t grasp me and I felt the characters were so hard to connect to because we rarely learned much about them. I can understand why the book is raved about, it’s certainly dream-like and the circus sounds magical. I just couldn’t resonate with the novel and was disappointed by being led to believe that it would be about this action-packed dual when the dual itself never happened. The characters were good if you took them at face value, but otherwise there was no deep emotional connection.