Book Review: The Night Circus

I loved The Night Circus.

Sometimes, I judge a book by its cover, and this cover is lovely!

Sometimes, I judge a book by its cover, and this cover is lovely!

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern has been on my TBR list for a long time, and I finally got around to reading it last month. It’s a story that takes place in the Victorian era, and it’s about two schools of magic: one based on natural gifts for physical manipulation, the other based on years of study of ancient practices—charms and spells and such. These two schools of thought, each led by its master practitioner, have been dueling for decades (perhaps centuries) to determine which type of magic is better and stronger. This competition is done by each master selecting a student, training that student, and then pitting their students in some kind of magic duel to the death.

Yup. Ageless magic masters and magical death duels. Sounds pretty cool, right?

Magical Death Duel in Slow Motion

So, it’s a bit more complex than a magical death duel, and it does lack suspense. I think that’s what some readers had issue with. They read the back cover, excited for this epic battle, and that’s not what this story delivers.

Master Teacher One is called Prospero the Enchanter, and his latest student happens to be his daughter Celia whom he didn’t even know he had fathered. She turns out to have a natural gift for “real illusions.” She can break and mend things at will and transform objects from one thing (her shawl) to another (a raven). Her father, who happens to be a rather terrible person, teaches her to master her gifts and even goes so far as to cut open her fingers so she can be forced to mend herself.

Master Teacher Two is referred to as Mr. A.H.-. He goes to an orphanage to get his player, a boy who becomes known as Marco. Another fantastic father figure, Mr. A.H.- essentially locks up Marco with books and takes him on travel to learn, but there’s no real bond or relationship there. Mr. A.H.- is simply grooming his next protege by supplying him with information. He doesn't even tell Marco how to interpret or use the information. Eventually, Marco learns how to use glyphs and bindings and can create illusory worlds in a person’s head.

Finally, the students are ready to duel, and the game board on which they compete is a fantastical circus. The imagery of Le Cirque des Rêves (The Circus of Dreams) is gorgeous. This traveling circus which shows up out of nowhere in various locations is open to the public only at night, and the reader is whisked away to this wonderful world where magic assaults the senses.

As you might guess (and as the description on the back of the book tells you), Celia and Marco fall in love during this battle and need to find a way out of it. I’m always a sucker for a love story, so it didn’t bother me that this played out as “insta-love” (over the course of many, many years), but I didn’t think it was the best written love story either. In fact, many of the characters—Celia and Marco included— come off a bit flat, like paper dolls. The story drags more often than not, making this supposedly grand duel feel like more of an extremely long courtship. The end seemed a bit too convenient, and it took forever to get there.

Why Do I Love This Book?

After all that, you’d probably think that I thought this book was “meh.” So why do I actually love it so much? It’s the writing. The writing is just beautiful. It transports you completely into this other world. This was so powerful, that it was enough for me to forget the minor flaws. It was a true escape and not just entertainment. There are stories that require a certain amount of suspension of disbelief, but this story didn’t even need me to do that. It immersed me so completely in this circus, in the midnight parties, in the illusory worlds. I wanted so much to be there.

So I fell into the love story, or very long courtship (perhaps as it’s meant to be), because it doesn’t have to be seen as “insta-love.” I took the paper dolls and fleshed them out, tried to understand them and where they came from. Cold and cruel father figures; secrets; not quite knowing how to treat people or love people; feelings of power, of lost time, of despair. And how would I have ended this story? Ha…not as well as Ms. Morgenstern did.

5 Stars on Goodreads

I gave this book 5 stars on Goodreads. Here’s my rating system:

  • 5 stars: I love this book so much that I must own a physical copy of it. I’m definitely going to recommend it to people.

  • 4 stars: This was a great book. I love it, but I don’t need to own a physical copy. I’ll definitely recommend it to people.

  • 3 stars: This is a really good book. I was entertained.

  • 2 stars: This book was fine. I don’t hate it or anything. It was fine.

  • 1 star: This book wasn’t for me. It might be for someone else, though. There are probably a lot of reasons why it isn’t for me. I’m not hating, though.

  • 0 stars: I’ve read it, or maybe I didn’t finish it. I didn’t enjoy it.

Comment below and let me know what you thought of this book!