The circus arrives without warning.
No announcement precede it, no paper notices on downtown posts and billboards, no mentions or advertisements in local newspapers. It is simply there, when yesterday it was not.
The first time I heard about Erin Morgenstern's The Night Circus was at the Editor's Buzz panel at BookExpo America in May. As soon as the editor started talking about it you could hear the room start to buzz. I don't think I ever fully appreciated the term before. We heard about how the book ended up on her desk and how she took it down to the cafeteria to read, coming back to her office only after she had finished it. We heard about how they knew they had to have it and how Summit Entertainment had acquired the film rights, the same company that brought the Twilight series to the big screen.
After the session there was a mad rush for to the hallway where the advance copies would be handed out. Copies of The Night Circus disappeared as fast as the publisher could stack them on the table. Once I had a copy in my hand the temptation to open it up right away was overwhelming but I resisted. There is less fun in reading a book such as the one The Night Circus promised to be when you can't share the experience of it with anyone else for months. I resolved to wait until closer to the release date.
When finally it was time to read The Night Circus I fell in love with Le Cirque des Rêves in all its black, white and shades of grey glory. Others who had already read their advance copies told me how lovely it was to read and I was prepared to be enchanted. I'm pleased to say I was.
Morgenstern created a special world. I could smell the caramel in the air and felt the urge to visit each and every tent in the circus. Reading The Night Circus was intoxicating. I was immersed in Morgenstern's world and I wasn't alone. Andi, who blogs at Estella's Revenge felt it too.
I could imagine the tents, each of the acts, the bonfire that serves as the heart of the circus, the food on sale to the patrons, the way the various acts dressed and conducted themselves. Hardly ever do I read a novel that makes me feel so thoroughly immersed in the fictional world.
Imagine a world, very much like our own, but touched by magic. A place where circuses can pop up out of nowhere in the middle of the night and are only open from dusk until dawn. Most people never knew of it of or noticed it. Magicians might perform but you'd think it was just sleight of hand -- smoke and mirrors. Two magicians duel by proxy. Each chooses a competitor. Marco and Celia are bonded to the competition without their knowledge. They neither understand the game nor it consequences. For the most part, they aren't even certain who their competitor is -- something that proves dangerous for both of them.
Their arena? The aptly named Le Cirque des Rêves. It is the thing of which dreams are made. But a circus cannot be run by just two people or with just two performers. Others are brought, unknowingly, into their game. These characters, the supporting cast, will interest you almost as much as the main characters. Widget and Poppet, the precocious twins born on the very first night of the circus, will enchant you. You will find yourself a little bit smitten with the master clock-maker and original rêveur Mr. Friedrick Thiessen. Your heart will ache for Isobel. You will wonder how Bailey fits into this magical puzzle. Prospero and Alexandre are worthy of being despised.
As Book Monkey points out, rightfully, The Night Circus, is not a perfect book. The pace is slow, perhaps too slow for some people.
The language is beautiful and the characters are intriguing enough to make you want to keep reading, but it is a very slow meandering plot that takes a while to pick up its pace. I think half the reason for this is the inclusion of very short chapters that switch back forth to different dates and different places and characters, and they are so short that I didn’t feel like I could really immerse myself into this world as fully as I wanted to.
For me, the slow pace was part of the charm of the novel. I can be an impatient reader. Books that force me to slow down can make me like them for it.
She is also correct in her review when she points out that that short chapters, changing dates and locations can be confusing. Like her I found myself flipping back and forth between the chapter I was reading and ones I had just finished to check dates. Again, for me, this worked. It was like a puzzle and with each chapter I got another clue. It challenges you to set aside the idea that a story needs to progress from Point A to Point B to Point C -- working its way logically forward in a straight line until you hit the conclusion. The Night Circus goes from Point A to Point B to Point L to Point E. There is a flow and it is a logical progression... in its own way. While I enjoyed it I suspect that some readers may find it frustrating.
You will find people who compare it to both the Harry Potter and Twilight series. Ignore them. If you loved either of them you will find the comparisons lacking. If you hated either (or both) of them it may cause you turn aside this special novel. The Night Circus is neither children's nor young adult fiction, though I suspect it will appeal to many young adult readers. It is also not part of a series. Yes, there is a magic. Yes, it has a bit of a star-crossed lovers theme. That's where the comparisons end.
The Night Circus challenges you to dream in black and white with the odd splash of red. Once you enter it, you will not want to leave.
Disclaimer: I received an advance reader's copy of The Night Circus at BookExpo America. Opinions expressed here are my own except where otherwise cited and quoted.
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