The Night Circus: The Magic Is In The Details

The Night Circus, by Erin Morgenstern, is not the kind of book I might normally have chosen on my own, but in seeking a good book to bring me down from a long cycle of short story compilations I had been stuck on recently, it provided a welcome return to the true novel format and goes above and beyond its intended purpose by being one of the most interesting books I have read recently.

Strangely enough, it is neither the plot nor the characters that make the book that interesting; here, the book is rather standard fare. Set mostly in the early 1900s, the book focuses on the strange and wonderful “Le Cirque des Reves“, the Circus of Dreams. Only open from sunset until sunrise, the circus offers many peculiar and even impossible-seeming attractions, such as acrobats that perform without any sign of equipment, a garden made entirely of ice, and a vertical labyrinth that appears to be formed from clouds. People are profoundly moved, even changed by the strange atmosphere of the circus, which arrives without announcement and leaves without warning, and a dedicated network of fans that call themselves reveurs follow its seemingly random movements across the world.

The Circus of Dreams, however, is in reality the staging ground for two young magicians; Celia Bowen, a young woman whose immense magical power allows her to warp reality with her will, passing her legitimate powers of transformation as complicated illusions, and Marco, an orphan boy raised in the study of glyphs and sympathetic magic, controlling the circus from the outside in in the guise of a clerk under the proprietor. The two are pitted against one another as proxies in their mentors? rivalry concerning the nature of magic, forced into a competition with unclear rules and the circus itself as the battleground. As Celia and Marco become aware of each other influencing the circus and gradually discover they are opponents, the competition is thrown into disarray when the two fall in love.

As I said before, the plot and characters are not of enormous interest or novelty; two rivals in a vague contest falling in love is one of the older twists in literature, and our main characters are not anything particularly original or memorable; on the whole, very little of interest was to be found in the cast of the book, and the story, while competently told, is not breaking any particularly new ground.

As this begins to sound increasingly like a negative or simply tepid review, however, two elements come rushing to the defense of the book; the setting and the detailed descriptions the writing devotes itself to. A duel between magicians, even one fought in a public venue like a circus, has been done before, but the Circus itself is a much more memorable character than any of the cast, its many mysteries and wonders described in loving detail. The Circus of Dreams feels real, alive, and powerful through phenomenal description of the setting, and the most enjoyable parts of the story are when Morgenstern is allowed to focus on the battleground rather than the battle. The atmosphere of the circus, from its intermittent dreamlike 2nd-person sequences addressing the reader as a circus-goer and guiding them through several strange and wonderful attractions, to Marco and Celia admiring in vivid detail the beauty of their surroundings, to the sometimes frightening sense of wrongness the people and performers ensnared and changed by the magic of the circus, is able to draw one in so completely any faults in the story or characterization are soon forgotten, and one reads the book with the feeling of briefly being transported to another world.

If you enjoy fantasy novels with peculiar and brilliantly vivid aesthetics, I heartily recommend The Night Circus to you. If you enjoy romances and some complex extended metaphors woven into the writing, you are also likely to enjoy the book.

In conclusion, I give The Night Circus a 9/10. It truly does stand as a proof of concept that brilliant execution of an old idea can exorcise any tired familiarity that accompanies it.

One Response to “The Night Circus: The Magic Is In The Details”

  1. Eve Topalian says:

    Wonderful review. It makes me want to read the book, which is afterall, the purpose of the review.
    Good job.

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