Latest review: The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

By Ekta R. Garg

March 1, 2017

Genre: Magical realism

Rated: Bookmark it! first, then Binge

Two people find themselves in a duel set by patrons who train students to fight for them. When the students fall in love and want to stop competing, the circus that serves as the duel’s venue starts to experience trouble. It will take all the magic they possess to find a solution to help everyone. Author Erin Morgenstern enchants readers on multiple levels in the whimsical novel The Night Circus.

From the time they’re both young, Celia and Marco have been groomed to compete against one another in a duel for magicians. Celia’s patron, Hector, begins when she shows up on his doorstep as a young child. After her mother commits suicide, Celia has nowhere else to go. Hector is also Celia’s father, and despite her young age he can see the innate talent that he himself has used for decades to enthrall audiences and compete against his arch rival.

Hector sends word to that rival, Alexander, that he’s found a student for the next phase of their contest. After meeting Celia, Alexander decides to choose a student for himself. He goes to an orphanage and picks a young boy to train. The boy takes the name Marco and follows Alexander’s stringent rules.

Alexander and Hector start teaching their respective charges, albeit in radically different ways. Their rivalry has lasted for decades, and neither of them wants to concede. They keep Celia and Marco apart until they find the appropriate time and place for their students to begin competing against one another.

Through a variety of acquaintances and in separate circumstances, Celia and Marco get involved in a special circus. The circus, known as Le Cirques des Reves or Circus of Dreams, opens at nightfall, closes at dawn, and includes acts the likes of which no one has ever seen. The unusual hours of operation as well as the mysterious way the circus appears in locations unannounced compounds its aura. While other performers suspect the truth, circus patrons don’t know that what they think of as clever misdirection and engineering feats are acts of true magic.

Hector and Alexander have found their dueling venue.

Celia works directly with the circus; Marco acts as a manager. Both create feature tents that delight visitors. Both get to know each other through their creations. The more they get to know the tents, the more they fall in love.

The two have known about the duel since the beginning, of course, but they decide they no longer want to take part in the challenge. By the time they come to this choice, however, they know leaving the circus will be complicated. Too many people have come to depend on it, both those who work in it as well as those who visit it. They will have to decide whether their love is worth sacrificing the circus. If Celia and Marco just walk away from it all, the circus will fall apart—literally.

Author Erin Morgenstern accomplishes a rare feat: four complementary plots that take readers through her book. Morgenstern gives her plots the freedom around the story the way a visitor would meander through the Circus of Dreams. The result: a story that whispers its secrets in lush, lyrical prose.

The main plot of Celia and Marco will keep readers pressing through the pages. Morgenstern draws in readers further by addressing them directly as if they were actually at the circus themselves, using the direct address as one of the subplots. The third subplot introduces readers to a special clockmaker who starts out as a contractor for a clock for the circus and becomes so much more.

Then readers meet Bailey, a farm boy who wants more from life. He and some of the circus performers form the fourth subplot. Bailey finds his purpose when he visits the circus and meets one of its participants in what turns out to be unforgettable circumstances.

Truly, repeat visits to this circus will only enhance and increase its charm and mystique. The novel contains a quality inherent in books like the Chronicles of Narnia, where one visit isn’t enough and multiple visits only deepen the longing for more. In accomplishing this, Morgenstern has created something special.

Her depth of character and story will tempt readers to rush through the book, but the level of detailing she provides demands attention. For this reason alone, I recommend readers not binge The Night Circus; it’s every book lover’s dream come true. I recommend readers Bookmark this book the first time through and then Binge it the second time.

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