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.
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