BONUS BOOK: The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

“Magic is secret and secrets are magic, after all, and years upon years of teaching and sharing magic and worse. Writing it down in fancy books that get all dusty with age has lessened it, removed its power bit by bit. It was inevitable, perhaps, but not unavoidable. Everyone makes mistakes.”

Genre: Fantasy, Fiction

Book Jacket Synopsis: “The circus arrives without warning. No announcements precede it, no paper notices plastered on lampposts and billboards. It is simply there, when yesterday it was not. Within these nocturnal black-and-white striped tents awaits an utterly 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, stare in wonderment as the tattooed contortionist folds herself into a small glass box, and become deliciously tipsy from the scents of caramel and cinnamon that waft through the air. Welcome to Le Cirque des Reves. Beyond the smoke and mirrors, however, a fierce competition is under way – a contest between two young illusionists, Celia and Marco, who have been trained since childhood to compete in a “game” to which they have been irrevocably bound by their mercurial masters. Unbeknownst to the players, this is a game in which only one can be left standing, and the circus is but the stage for a remarkable battle of imagination and will. As the circus travels around the world, the feats of magic gain fantastical new heights with every stop. The game is well under way and the lives of those involved – the eccentric circus owner, the elusive contortionist, the mystical fortune-teller, and a pair of red-headed twins born backstage among them – are swept up in a wake of spells and charms. But when Celia discovers that Marco is her adversary, they begin to think of the game not as a competition but as a wonderful collaboration. With no knowledge of how the game must end, they innocently tumble headfirst into love. A deep, passionate, and magical love that makes the lights flicker and the room grow warm whenever they so much as brush hands. Their masters still pull the strings, however, and this unforeseen occurrence forces them to intervene with dangerous consequences, leaving the lives of everyone from the performers to the patrons hanging in the balance.”

Review: I have had a number of people tell me that The Night Circus is one of the best books they’ve read this year. Unfortunately, after reading The Night Circus, I have no plans to recommend this book to anyone in the near future. My dislike for this novel largely stems from the fact that 1) It did not actually deliver on the bolded points of the book jacket synopsis and 2) The plot development happened at an extremely slow pace. Let’s consider my first point. The competition between Celia and Marco is described as being “fierce” and a “remarkable battle of imagination and will.” These descriptions strongly suggest a lot of action and a concrete competition between the two players. In actuality, Celia and Marco hardly feel like they are competing. Each illusionist designs tents for the circus. Yes, the tents are all fantastical and magical, but it hardly feels like a fierce competition when one of the competitors (Celia) doesn’t even know who she is competing against for the first several years. Celia and Marco also begin collaborating pretty early on, which once again diminishes any semblance of fierceness in the competition. That leads to my second complaint: the Celia/Marco romance came out of nowhere (perhaps I shouldn’t be complaining about the book jacket synopsis, since they do seem to tumble headfirst, with little preinclination, into love). I think this book spent too much time setting the scenery and bothering with supplemental characters and not enough time actually explaining what was going on in the plot and building convincing relationships between the main characters. I still gave it three out of five stars because the descriptions of the circus itself were wonderful. My favorite tent was Widget’s, where circus patrons could open different bottles and feel themselves transplanted to different places, such as the beach or the mountains. The idea is all there but the execution, in my opinion, was flawed.