Magic isn’t something to discuss; it’s a visceral experience, one that is difficult to manifest in writing.Yet author Erin Morgenstern’s words in The Night Circus breathe with alchemy, spells, and charm. The circus scenes — all powered by real magic — are wild, intricate, palpable, even sensual. The reader joins the enchanted circus audience, awed from the moment we enter the gate and step into the “open courtyard surrounded by striped tents.” At the center of the courtyard is a large bonfire:
…it sits in a wide black iron cauldron, balanced on a number of clawed feet…The flames are not yellow or orange, but white as snow as they dance.
The Night Circus troupe, Le Cirque de Rêves, travels the world, mysteriously appearing “without warning” in towns. Le Cirque de Rêves features familiar circus fare: the scent of caramel and smoke, flying acrobats and trapeze artists, carousels, distortion mirrors, and illusionists.
But there is one very special thing about Le Cirque de Rêves: every detail of this particular circus, from the performances within each striped tent to the unusual gardens, is held together by real magic. Spectators assume the dazzling visions of floating chairs, white fire, and disappearing doves are illusions created by sleight of hand and special lighting. But really, what’s keeping everyone dazzled is magic and wizardry.
At the center of Le Cirque de Rêves are two rivaling magicians, Marco and Celia. As children, they are “promised” to each other in a dark deal between two powerful magicians. The “promise” has nothing to do with romantic matchmaking, however; it’s a contract for a future competition. For years, Marco and Celia are trained separately in the art of magic. When Le Cirque de Rêves is conceived, it becomes the venue, or stage, at which they compete by showcasing their magical powers through tricks, contraptions, and surreal scenery. The victor is presumably the magician with the best creations; the defeated faces death.
Only there’s a big wrench in the competition: Marco and Celia fall in love, something their necromantic patrons did not anticipate. Thus, the main plot of The Night Circus is a story of forbidden love. And boy, does this love story disappoint. Maybe the magical circus performances outshine Marco and Celia’s moments of romance. Maybe the author is good at bringing alive the magic of the circus but isn’t so skillful at creating two lovers that grab at the hearts of readers. Whatever the reason, the love story lacks credibility and sincerity. I didn’t find myself strongly rooting for Marco and Celia as a couple, nor did I understand exactly why they couldn’t be together or how the victor would be chosen.
Despite the disappointing love story, I found most of The Night Circus to be truly enchanting and unique. It puts readers in a world that is delightfully unfamiliar and intriguing. The supporting characters — an entire circus staff of them — are unique and likable. This novel definitely transported me into another world, and that is exactly what I love most about good books.
Here’s the trailer for Erin Morgenstern’s The Night Circus: