Book Review: The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

Two powerful magicians disagree over the nature of magic, the methods of harnessing it, the trick to true magical greatness. Time after time, they each train up an apprentice and pit them against each other to see who is right. This time, using a nighttime circus as the arena, their question will be answered once and for all.

With The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern, I branched out from my usual YA niche into adult fantasy, with a sprinkling of romance, a spot of violence, and lots of intrigue.

Genre: Fantasy
Who should read it: Readers who like like absurdity, high stakes, wonder-inducing settings, and a little bit of ambiguity
You may like it if you like: I haven’t read many books that come even close to this one, but perhaps The Magicians by Lev Grossman.

The Characters:

Celia Bowen – Daughter of Prospero the Enchanter, Celia is naturally gifted at magic, perhaps even more powerful than her father, who haunts her every move in this dangerous game.

Marco Alisdair – Protégé of Prospero’s rival A. H., Marco was plucked out of an orphanage by his mysterious benefactor, and diligently studies magic found in books and scrolls, locked away from the world.

Bailey Clarke – A young boy drawn in by the circus, he ends up joining a group of hard-core fans who call themselves Rêveurs, or dreamers. Bailey will find his fate more tied more closely to the circus than that of a mere spectator, however.

The Plot:

Cover of The Night CircusCelia and Marco are each protégés of talented magicians (ones who do real magic, not just stage tricks) and their teachers make them face off against each other in a mysterious competition in which they had no choice and whose rules they are learning as they go. But of this competition, the Night Circus is born and it begins to take on a life of its own. Soon more people than just Celia and Marco find their lives wrapped up in it, caught in the magic spun between Celia and Marco. What will happen when one of them must lose?

My Thoughts:

The story starts off slow with a very detached perspective, and I was not sure I was going to like it. As the text alternated between quotes, second-person immersive snippets of the circus, and third-person narrative bouncing between various characters, it took me a while to become invested. Finally as the two protagonists came of age and began taking control of the circus and their lives, the story picked up.

Much like The Belles, which I reviewed last month, this is a book with a strong aesthetic: monochromatic steampunk circus. Everything within the circus is black or white or black and white, with an intricate old-fashioned clock as the centerpiece. Plot aside, the imagery conjured up by the circus exhibits created by Marco and Celia to outdo each other is quite marvelous.

Major themes of this work include the power of story, dreams, the magic and escapism of the circus, and the interconnectedness of all things.

Have you read The Night Circus? What do you think? Hit me up in the comments.

You can find The Night Circus at a bookstore near you, or purchase it through the affiliate link below and support Chapters and Charms with a portion of the proceeds. (You may have to disable your ad blocker to view the link.)

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