rco are protégés of magicians capable of wonderful feats. Both have been raised with the knowledge that one day they will face an opponent in a competition testing their skills in every way. That competition takes the form of a circus that opens only at night, and that contains a dazzling array of tents and performances; from ice gardens to a cloud maze and a wishing tree. The circus is hugely popular with the public, who attend in droves, not quite understanding that magic is the basis of everything around them. But as the years pass, the performers and circus workers start to notice something unusual, and the pressure of maintaining such a complex competition arena starts to tell on Celia and Marco. Matters are further complicated when their feelings for each other start to intrude on their desire to win.
I've owned The Night Circus ever since it came out in hardback, because I am a sucker for hype. I tend to buy hyped books when they are hyped (and this one is a beautiful hardback) but then wait a few years to read them, when I can approach the book with a clear head. Despite having read many glowing reviews of The Night Circus in the past, I tried to approach it as I would any other novel.
And The Night Circus is a very good book. I wouldn't say it's as strong as it has been made out to be, but it's distinctive and unique. Morgenstern's writing is extremely visual and the circus just came to life in my imagination, with little effort on my part. I adored the style of the circus, and the way all of the little details, like the clock and the red scarves, were described fully. I longed to visit the circus and see the tents for myself. The magical atmosphere matched the historical setting perfectly, and I can not fault Morgenstern's 'vision' for the novel at all.
As well as this, the plot was interesting and the competition element kept things moving along at a brisk pace; the story never dragged. Celia and Marco were both well developed characters and although their romance was a little intense and overdone at times, it fit with the magical elements of the story. The secondary characters were perhaps more interesting than the main ones, especially Celia's father and the twins, Poppet and Widget. All the characters were described in the same visual way as the circus itself, and this made them really come to life.
Actually, there's not much I didn't like about the The Night Circus. I think the only reason I didn't love it in a 5-out-of-5 star way is that I couldn't help but compare it to Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell. Both are stories of magic rooted in nineteenth century England, and The Night Circus just falls a bit flat by comparison. It doesn't have the depth or mythology of Jonathan Strange, and comes across as more style over substance. It's still an excellent book and one I would highly recommend, it's just not quite up there with my absolute favourites.
Source: Personal copy
First Published: 2011
Score: 4 out of 5