The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern is whimsical tale of a magical competition by proxy between two conjurers which takes place through the medium of a fantastical circus which “opens at nightfall, closes at dawn.” The challenge is further complicated by the fact that the two chosen proxies fall in love. I read recently that the novel in its original form was little more than a series of vignettes with little in the way of plot or cohesion to pull them together. While in the published form it’s true that visual images are more important than plot, it still flows very well.
I found that The Night Circus sneaked up on me. It didn’t immediately draw me in, but the more I read the more I fell in love with Morgenstern’s circus and the people who live and work in it.
What I liked
Visual imagery. One of the real treats of The Night Circus is the beautiful images conjured up by Morgenstern’s writing. Her descriptions of, say, the Ice Garden or the Cloud Maze are breathtakingly evocative and stunning. It really made me wish I could visit them in person.
Larger than life but relatable characters. All of the characters in The Night Circus are wonderfully written, each with his or her own quirks and motivations. They added real life to the story. The romance between Celia and Marco was slowly and realistically built up and I felt invested in their relationship. Even the rêveurs – the circus devotees – brought something to the story.
The magic. Clearly Morgenstern has gone for what Brandon Sanderson would describe as a “soft” magic system. This means that if it has any internal logic or rules, this is not explained to the reader – it’s a case of just accept it and move on. That works very well for this particular story. In many aspects it’s very subtle, such that the circus patron could accept it as sleight of hand, but taken in the bigger picture it is quite fantastical.
What I didn’t like
The pacing. As I mentioned, the book was very slow to draw me in. It is worth sticking with it – it is a truly magical story.
I gave The Night Circus four stars out of five.