Rating: 5 Stars
Age Appropriateness: Upper Young Adult readers and above.
Warnings: Rare instances of strong language, some dark and adult themes, character death.
“’It is important,’ the man in the grey suit interrupts. ‘Someone needs to tell those tales. When battles are fought and won and lost, when pirates find their treasures and the dragons eat their foes for breakfast with a nice cup of Lapsang souchong, someone needs to tell their bits of overlapping narrative. There’s magic in that.’ … ‘There are many different kinds of magic, after all.’”
The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern, has received a large number of rave reviews. It tells the story of two children, Celia and Marco, who are trained for the majority of their lives in magic. This training, they learn very early, is meant to prepare them for a challenge in which they will face off with an unknown opponent (each other). The circus itself is created as the novel goes on, and is the intended venue for this challenge. Full of mystery, romance and magic, this dark and hauntingly beautiful fantasy is unlike anything I’ve read before.
The novel is divided into five parts, each with chapters and subsections. The subsections are describing a different timeline to the rest of the novel. Throughout the main chapters, a specific date is given, while the subsections lack a certain year or month, and the narrator in those portions directly addresses the reader, as though they are in the circus themselves. The novel opens with one of these subsections and immediately grabs the reader’s interest. From there, the novel switches to the omniscient third person and follows a whole cast of eccentric and fantastical characters.
For the majority of the book, the reader is as in the dark about the big “challenge” that awaits the two main characters, and it only keeps you all the more interested. JJ Abrams, acclaimed movie director, once said that a story must have “mystery boxes” for the viewer (or, in this case, reader) to uncover as they go. There must always be a mystery to keep them interested, and Morgenstern has absolutely accomplished this.
Although the novel is not particularly fast-paced at the start, it can feel like it when the descriptions of magic and the grandeur of the circus take place. Equally, the way characters move within the story is explained so well that it’s almost as though you’re watching everything take place rather than reading about it. As someone who tends to imagine everything in her head as she reads, this is utterly brilliant in my opinion.
Easily as interesting as the central plot is an undercurrent of information about a boy named Bailey, whose story happens at a different time than most of Celia and Marco’s. Towards the latter end of the novel, however, the two timelines begin to converge and everything rapidly picks up pace, making it nearly impossible to put the book down.
The packaging of the book, similarly, is beautiful. The cover itself, even for the paperback edition (which is the version I read), is exquisitely crafted, and the inside of the book has been anything but neglected. In short, the book itself is as beautiful as the story and objects described within it.
Although the timeline can be confusing at first, it is not terribly difficult to put the pieces of the story together as you go along. So long as uncovering a mystery is, in your opinion, interesting – and if you find magic, circuses, or love stories to be worth your time – then this book needs to find its way to the top of your “to-be-read” list.