Author: Erin Morgenstern
Published: May 24th 2012
Published by: Vintage Books
In this mesmerizing debut, a competition between two magicians becomes a star-crossed love story.
The circus arrives at night, without warning. No announcements precede it. It is simply there, when yesterday it was not. Within nocturnal black and white striped tents awaits a unique experience, a feast for the senses, where one can get lost in a maze of clouds, meander through a lush garden made of ice, stand awestruck as a tattooed contortionist folds herself into a small glass box, and gaze in wonderment at an illusionist performing impossible feats of magic.
Welcome to Le Cirque des Reves. Beyond the smoke and mirrors, however, a fierce competition is underway - a contest between two young magicians, Celia and Marco, who have been trained since childhood to compete in "a game," in which each must use their powers of illusion to best the other. Unbeknownst to them, this game is a duel to the death, and the circus is but the stage for a remarkable battle of imagination and will.
Prospero the Enchanter is left with a package. His five-year-old daughter whose mother has just committed suicide, and whom he didn't know existed until that moment. When he learns that she has inherited his talent for 'forcibly manipulating the universe', he gets in touch with a man and suggests they have another competition. The man adopts - somewhat - the orphan Marco, and begins training him with by own methods. The venue for this competition? The Night Circus. This leads to an awe-inspiring circus full of wonders beyond the imagination, and an impact on the lives of countless thousands of people.
I love this book. You know those books that you start reading and just know that you're going to love within a matter of pages? It was one of those for me. The writing and imagery was absolutely beautiful, and the sheer inventiveness of some of the attractions at the circus was wonderful. The magic was understated, and something which you could almost believe could actually exist. It doesn't make the user all powerful and has its limits.
Snippets of the circus seen through the eyes of a visitor are interspersed through the story, and it is this which opens the story. We get to see something of it before understanding what it really is, what it is being used for. And it's enchanting; my biggest disappointment about this book is that I can't actually go and see all the things that are described.
The central characters are Celia Bowen and Marco Alisdair, both raised with magic according to the way their mentor believes best teaches it. One almost purely through physical practice; the other grounded in theory, words, symbols. Opposites, yet set to compete against each other in a contest of endurance.
Of course, this does mean that this is their whole lives. At least that we see. Never seeing any other aspect of either of them, they do feel a little one-dimensional. But then, Celia lives in the circus and Marco helps run it. It could be that there isn't anything else to them really, as closely twined they are with it and given how they've been raised. Even with this possible caveat, it still would have been nice to see a little more depth. And the same holds true for many of the other central characters: you feel that the circus is all there is too them, and there are never really any hints at anything more. Some of the more peripheral characters - the ones not so directly involved with it - escape this which was nice.
You know from the start where the relationship between Celia and Marco is going, but it isn't thrust in your face. It's barely present for most of the book, and when it is it's rather understated. Between the physical distance between them and the constraints of the competition, they don't spend a lot of time actually together, and we don't see all that they do but I liked it. In some ways, they don't fall in love with one another, but with the things they make for the competition. I read another review which said they didn't believe in their love story because there was nothing to it - they felt that they'd fallen in love just because, and to make the story work, but I can't disagree with this more. They get to know each other through an abstract medium, and this is the basis of their relationship rather than anything physical. On top of this they are magically bound together, and I think this may have something to do with it. There are hints that this isn't the first time emotions have come in the way of a competition, so it wouldn't surprise me.
The story flows along nicely, if a little slowly at times. Only in that there are periods where nothing of vast import happens, so there is nothing to tell. The chapter titles are all underscored with a date so you know how long has passed, but since I, in general, tend not to pay too much attention to chapter headings I think I'm probably a little ignorant as to how long had passed, not helping when it came to the second story line included which was set out of sync with that of Celia and Marco's. The competition they find themselves thrust into was a little slow-paced, and there wasn't ever a sense of urgency until the end, and even then only briefly.
But then this isn't the kind of book that grabs you and drags you along with it. It more takes you by the hand and invites you to explore.
Kind of like Le Cirque des Reves itself, I suppose.
Plus it contained the word 'discombobulated'. Extra marks for awesomeness!