The Night Circus – Erin Morgenstern

A fantastical adventure complete with magic, love, kittens and lots of delicious things to eat, The Night Circus seemed like a promising story. Not only is the setting a perfect playground for any possibilities, but the characters are mysterious and the magic is real, even if the action is a bit on the slow side.

The Night Circus Two old rival magicians make a pact. They will each train a student in the magic arts with the ultimate goal of pitting them against one another in a competition to the death. Apparently this was done before so each of them know exactly what they are doing. Or so they think. Prospero the Enchanter, or Hector Bowen by his real name, and Alexander, the mysterious man in the grey suit, each choose a student. Prospero chooses his daughter, Celia, whom he calls Miranda (a nod to Shakespeare), and Alexander picks an orphan boy whom he decides to train as a magician.
The setting is a magical circus designed specifically for this purpose, Le Cirque des Reves (The Circus of Dreams) complete with acrobats, tents in black and white, wonderful snacks and a clock that is nothing short of extraordinary. The circus comes and goes without warning, but its followers, called reveurs, seem to know exactly where it’s going. The two opponent magicians, Marco and Celia, trained from childhood and now all grown up, find themselves thrust into a challenge none of them want to complete, especially since love gets in the way and they can’t accept the fact that in order for one of them to win, the other has to die, and the circus is nothing more than the arena of their challenge.

I really liked the idea the book is based on – two rivals, a competition, complications, magic, but in spite of all that something felt a bit odd. The competing magicians are perfect, they have no flaws (beautiful, young, etc.), their impossible love (the Romeo and Juliet kind) too predictable and unreal (he was actually with somebody else for quite a while), and the ending too happily-ever-after.
There are no true villains, unless one considers Alexander a villain – he is cold, detached and uninterested in his apprentice beyond pushing him to read or occasionally taking him out to see magic plays or visit museums, or Prospero – for selfishly putting his ambitions first and teaching Celia how to heal herself by repeatedly slicing open her fingers. There are no consequences to their acts, and the two lovers do not fight back.

What I liked was the description of magic – the wishing tree with its candles symbolizing wishes, the ice garden, the ability of the magicians to change their looks and their clothes, and the description of delicious food which made me google “chocolate mice”. I enjoyed this book but felt it came short of its promise of an exciting adventure and a fight to the death. It’s entertaining, easy to read, and the writing is delicate like a sugar confection, but I wish there was more to it than that.

My rating: 3/5 (based on the Goodreads system).

*Read in January 2014

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8 Responses to The Night Circus – Erin Morgenstern

  1. Vishy says:

    Wonderful review, Delia! I loved the first sentence of your review – it is so nice that the book is about magic, love, kittens, delicious food 🙂 The fight to the death and the two competitors falling in love makes me think of Suzanne Collins’ ‘The Hunger Games’ series. Prospero and Miranda – that is really wonderful 🙂 It is interesting to know that the author ties up all the loose ends and everybody lives happily everafter. I think he must have written a fairytale in the guise of a modern novel 🙂 I loved this sentence from your review – “writing is delicate like a sugar confection” – that makes me want to try reading atleast a few pages from the book. Thanks for this beautiful review.

    • Delia says:

      Hi Vishy,
      The book is a fairy tale in disguise, and that’s one of the reasons I wanted to read it. Unfortunately, I like my fairy tales more dramatic, like Gaiman’s interpretation of the Snow White tale in “Snow Glass Apples”. I loved the description of food though, the caramelized apples, the chocolate popcorn, and the chocolate mice. I wouldn’t mind a couple of those mice right now. 🙂

  2. Brian Joseph says:

    Based on your commentary this sounds truly different.

    I actually like the idea of no new villains as well as some of the other aspects missing that a more conventional narrative would include. I like variation in literature and a story missing those elements, at least once in a while actually sounds refreshing.

    • Delia says:

      Hi Brian,
      It is different from what I expected. From your commentary it looks like you might enjoy this more than I did. I have to say that I did enjoy the book, I just wish I enjoyed it more.

  3. TJ says:

    I personally loved this book, especially the language. I’m sorry that it fell short for you.

  4. It really is a special book, although one that I see a wide variety of opinions on. I liked it a lot more than you did in that I’d rate it a 5/5. I felt it delivered on all its promises and was such a beautiful story in so many ways. I’ve listened to part of it on audio too, which is amazing with Jim Dale’s narration. I wish she would write a little faster, I’d like to read another novel by her.

    I really enjoy all the visuals in this. The book has inspired some really creative Pinterest pages.

    • Delia says:

      Hi Carl,
      Perhaps we look for different things in a novel. Perhaps my expectations were too high. I’m glad to see you enjoyed it so much.
      I’ve never had the pleasure of listening to an audio book, although I do have one on cd.
      There’s an “About” section on her website and she said it might take this year to finish the book she’s working on, and another year or maybe more to get it published.
      “I am working on something new. When I have time, which is proving more difficult to find than I’d like but I am indeed working on it. It is not circusy. It is something completely different, still fantastical but heavily rooted in reality. Probably best described at this point as a film noir-flavored Alice in Wonderland.”
      It sounds good, doesn’t it?

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