One Sentence Summary: Marco and Celia are the pawns of their masters, weaving a circus of dark beauty each night for the gratification of an ominous challenge, but when they fall in love, the veil will be torn asunder and they must be more clever than fate and stronger than death to bear what is to come.
Excerpt: "The circus arrives without warning. No announcements precede it. It is simply there, when yesterday it was not."
I was primed for this book. The thought of a dark circus- the tantalizing possibility of such a setting and tone, has lingered long at the back of my mind, planted by Ray Bradbury's Something Wicked This Way Comes. I attempted to read that book every year at Halloween time for several years before I was able to creepy-crawl myself past the sequence when the boys are in the tree and watching the demented nude dancing of the troupe through the windows. Don't remember the part? Well, I do, because it was what sent me skittering under the covers every October for at least three Octobers. When I was old enough for the creepy mood of that book to be more enjoyable than torture, it became a precious doorway to me- to Bradbury, to beautifully constructed horror, and to the tenuous space where dreams and nightmares meet through story.
The Night Circus is not horror. It is not constructed to be disturbing or even particularly off-putting, but unfolds as one may open a mysterious invitation, tempting you into complete immersion. You open the book and are walking through the tantalizing iron gate- it is a book that gives you a feeling of having been selected, uniquely privileged to see what lies within, behind, and then beyond. Morgenstern's imagery is compelling and unique. She writes with the desperate momentum of someone who has carried a story inside them for too long. It unfolds, each page with wonders more beautiful and fully realized than the last. I found myself thoroughly hypnotized by the world she had created, joyful in its excesses, and blind to its holes. In that way, The Night Circus once again returned me to Bradbury- a descriptive writer's write, a playground for dreamers.
There were some holes, of course. This is not the perfect book. The protagonists sometimes feel thinly plotted, ghostly even, beside the supporting cast. I could not wrest Thiessen, Bailey, or the alluring contortionist from my mind- the man in gray, layers as numerous as the elements of his suit, demanded his audience, but Celia and Marco sometimes felt insubstantial, flimsy vehicles for the focus of this story- the Night Circus itself. I can see how, if you were not a reader who was swayed by setting as character, this book would leave something to be desired. The plot is similar- its nuances are sweeter than the grand scheme. I would have liked a more aggressively detailed magic system, if we are going to get specific. Perhaps it was part of the mystery that the science of the unknown stood on feeble legs indeed, and this may be a matter of preference, but I like my magic served well done.
Ultimately, one gets the feeling that what this circus is to the reveurs, it's caravan following in the story, the book is to its author- wish fulfillment. Luckily, I felt that she succeeded enormously, because that is exactly what it is for the reader as well. Several weeks later, I cannot shake the sensation of this book- caramel corn. Light, quickly consumed, and best when shared.
Shelf Status: Keeping to share heavily
If You Liked The Night Circus, you may like: Something Wicked This Way Comes, Airborn, The Ocean at the End of the Lane