Book Review - The Night Circus


The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern
Star Rating: 3/5
Genre: Romance, Gothic, and Metaphysical & Visionary
Buy the book: Amazon
Synopsis (from Amazon):
The circus arrives without warning. No announcements precede it. It is simply there, when yesterday it was not. Within the black-and-white striped canvas tents is an utterly unique experience full of breathtaking amazements. It is called Le Cirque des Rêves, and it is only open at night.

But behind the scenes, a fierce competition is underway—a duel between two young magicians, Celia and Marco, who have been trained since childhood expressly for this purpose by their mercurial instructors. Unbeknownst to them, 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. Despite themselves, however, Celia and Marco tumble headfirst into love—a deep, magical love that makes the lights flicker and the room grow warm whenever they so much as brush hands. 

True love or not, the game must play out, and the fates of everyone involved, from the cast of extraordinary circus per­formers to the patrons, hang in the balance, suspended as precariously as the daring acrobats overhead. 

Written in rich, seductive prose, this spell-casting novel is a feast for the senses and the heart.

Welp, I might have already turned some people off by my rating at the top of this post.  I know tons of people freaking love this book.  Okay, maybe not everyone because I just read some of the poor reviews on Amazon.  I am not about to be as mean as some of those (honestly, people, there's a real live person at the other end of the screen!).  Anyway, I was really excited about this book.  I've heard nothing but good things about it.  In fact, one of my friends texted this to me about it a long while back:

If you liked Caraval, you'll lurrrrve The Night Circus. Her writing is gorgeous without being redundant; Caraval almost feels like a muddled reflection of it. Beautiful descriptions. A stunning but fragile world. A dynamic cast of characters.

Maybe the hype was too much.  I dunno.  Then again, I ended up not liking Caraval because of the ending, but I'm getting ahead of myself.  Lemme talk about what I did like first.

My friend was absolutely correct about the descriptions.  They're pure lusciousness!  Morgenstern immerses you in the world.  Her sensory descriptions are almost tangible, and she artfully brings them back just enough to remind you of the environment you're in.  I could practically smell the caramel when she mentioned it.

And speaking of immersion, the voice used to write the book...what is that?!  It's so interesting.  Some of the sections use straight second person, which I really enjoyed.  I've never seen that type of writing before, and it was super well done.  The rest of the book, it's third person, but in a more immediate present tense, if that makes sense.  Instead of saying, "Celia stood," the narration would read, "Celia stands."  It created an entirely different experience in reading.

I also really enjoyed how different Marco (more on him later) and Celia are.  They practice their arts in completely different ways, and I thought that created a really interesting dynamic.  I also really enjoyed seeing their storylines play out separately (more on that later too).  It was like watching a chess match, except with gorgeous imagery and I actually enjoyed it - I'm not really a chess fan TBH.

And I cannot tell you how much I appreciated Celia's characterization.  She's strong and kick-awesome without having to be the typical punch-em-up girl.  Take note, folks, kick-awesomeness comes in many forms.  And she's quietly more talented than anyone.

A lot of the book is exposition and setup, which I can't judge Morgenstern for.  My own book, Out of the Shadows, does that too.  And I totally think that's necessary in some books, The Night Circus included.  So I didn't mind that, especially since it was so beautiful to read.  I do find this really interesting, though, because every article on writing says not to do this.  It just shows there are always exceptions to the rule.

Okay, I've said a lot of really lovely things about this book.  So why the three-star rating?  Three things: Marco, the time slips, and the ending.

To be fair, I'm on the fence about Marco.  My big issue is how he treats another character called Isobel.  He admits to not being very nice to her, but he keeps her in his flat like some kind of entertaining little object.  Yes, I know he says later that he needed something during that dark time in his life, but it still soured him for me, especially when it came to him and Celia and the end.  

I'll grant you, the location changes were okay, but the time slips were too much for me.  It wasn't just back and forth between two different years, it was a bunch of years.  I ended up just giving up on trying to keep track of where in time they were and letting the context of the scenes wash over me instead.

I'm obviously not going to tell you about the end because this is a spoiler-free review.  Suffice to say, I was not at all satisfied by it.  Maybe I'm not enough of a romantic or my standards are too exacting.  I don't know, but a gilded cage is still a cage.


All in all, this book created a really enjoyable reading experience.  It's beautifully written.  The things that I didn't like about it are due to my own idiosyncrasies, so I still recommend it to anyone who enjoys beautiful stories.

Thanks for reading!