Edition 1: Book Review: The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern
Reviewed by Mysti Parker
The circus arrives without warning.
From this memorable opening line, Erin Morgenstern’s “The Night Circus”, is more than just a good book. It’s an experience.
It all begins in Victorian Era New England, when two enchanters of undisclosed (yet unnaturally advanced) age begin a game they’ve played before. They each choose a “player” to train, and from early on, we are told that one of those players is not meant to survive at the end.
The first contestant is Celia Bowen, who happens to be the unexpected daughter of Hector Bowen, one of the enchanters. He discovers she does indeed harbor the same magical talents that her dear old dad possesses, so at the tender age of six, she begins her training. It’s a years-long process of constant pressure from Hector, one which most youngsters could not endure. I grew very sympathetic toward Celia as she experienced such horrendous physical challenges. Hector would have been a social services target in this day and age.
The other is Marco Alistair, a pre-teen orphan adopted by the other enchanter (who goes by the vague initials A.H-). His training is much different than Celia’s, as he is largely left alone to his own studies. He’s given mountains of books with symbols and elements of magic, but given very little in terms of clear instruction or relationship with his adoptive father. Marco’s neglect endeared me to him right away, and I think it did him a world of good. Though lonely and naïve, he developed into a kind soul that I’m certain he wouldn’t have become if the cold Mr. A.H- had been more prominent in his life.
Neither Celia nor Marco knows who their opponent is, what the “game” is all about, or where their battleground is, at first. Yet, as time turns them both into young adults, their venue and their identities become apparent. Thanks to some encouragement from Hector and Mr. A.H-, a group of talented individuals comes up with the idea of Les Cirques des Reves (Circus of Dreams), a circus only open from sundown to sunup, which mysteriously appears in various cities around the world with no set schedule.
Though the first few chapters were a bit slower in watching the two opponents grow and develop, the story grabbed hold of me as soon as the circus was born. From the black and white striped tents to the fantastical exhibits within, Ms. Morgenstern writes these with such fine detail that I could easily imagine myself in such tents as the cloud maze, the wishing tree, and the ice garden. I could have just as easily been a part of the circus’s fan club, the Reveurs, walking around as they did in their red scarves, admiring the marvels in each tent.
Marco and Celia are the driving force behind these enchanted wonders, and even before they are sure of one another’s identity, they come to know each other through every new creation. Their respective tents are like love letters to one another. So, by the time the two of them finally know who they’re up against, they are madly in love.
Which makes their dilemma that much more tragic. Of course, I cannot give the ending away, but I will touch on things I both loved and disliked about this book.
The book is written in present tense, which gave an enthralling immediacy to the events. Though incredibly lyrical and perhaps literary in style, the language was simple enough to allow for a smooth reading experience. Some might argue that there was too much detail (down to the ingredients of every dish at the “Midnight Dinners”), and though I agree that much could have been cut and not hurt the story itself, the details were like a fine side dish served with the meat of the book. The romance itself was not prominent, which might have been distracting (this coming from a romance author!). All the characters were cleverly developed so that we get to know each one intimately.
The only negatives I had about this book were the character of Isobel, whom I mistakenly thought was someone else entirely. Her role throughout and toward the end wasn’t nearly as impactful as I would have expected. Then, there was the end itself. It failed to keep the promises of the book’s description. In fact, it wrapped up too quickly and easily for me. However, if one ignores the grave warnings at the beginning, the outcome was satisfactory enough and one character (Bailey) ended up right where he should be.
I recommend this book for any reader (young adult and beyond) who loves a finely detailed, fantasy tale with a not-your-usual romantic theme. I hope you will pick up a copy and get lost among the black and white tents of Les Cirque des Reves just like I did! You won’t be disappointed.
The Night Circus, by Erin Morgenstern
Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, 2011
ISBN: 0385534639 (978-0385534635)
Mysti Parker is a full time wife, mother of three, and a writer. Her first novel, A Ranger’s Tale was published in January, 2011 by Melange Books, and the second in the fantasy romance series, Serenya’s Song, was published in April 2012. She is also the proud writer of Unwritten, a blog recently voted #3 for eCollegeFinder’s Top Writing Blogs award.