The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern is a fantastic, magical adventure into a fictional world where magicians walk the streets everyday, unbeknownst to mere mortals, twisting and crafting the world around them as they please. In particular, two magicians, Celia Bowen and Marco Alisdair, are picked as opponents in a magical competition in which only one can survive. Of course, they fall in love with each other, because what kind of fantasy novel would be complete without star-crossed lovers? The venue of their competition, or the “game board”, is Le Cirque de Rêves, or the Circus of Dreams. It’s full of wonders beyond comprehension; a vast maze of illusions, acts that defy odds, and tents full of enchanting gardens and experiences. As the competition intensifies and the two lovers pine for one another, the circus darkens and risks certain destruction, leaving Marco and Celia struggling to find a way to save each other, the circus, and everyone in it.
I loved The Night Circus because Morgenstern beautifully crafts a rich, detailed world. Each sentence curls delicately into the next, pulling you so deeply into the Circus of Dreams that you forget it’s a fictional world. I could practically smell the caramel, taste the buttery, salty popcorn, and hear the crackle of a bonfire burning into the night. The imagery and sensory details packed into each paragraph are astounding. The story takes you across the world, from ancient cities in Europe to new cities in America, embellishing each location with magical visions beyond your wildest dreams. The scenes that occur in the circus were my favorite. In particular, I loved the descriptions of the ice garden and Widget’s tent. Widget’s tent is described as a long room, filled with jars, bottles, and boxes. Each box or bottle encapsulates a memory. Merely opening a box could release sounds and scents symbolic of a beautiful memory, like a day at the beach or Christmas morning. If you’re on the fence about reading this book, I recommend flipping through the novel to the chapter “Bedtime Stories”, which describes Bailey’s experience in Widget’s tent as he opens various bottles and jars. It won’t spoil the plot for you, but it will give you a delicious taste of what the rest of the novel is like, and trust me, you’ll be hungry for more!
While I enjoyed the rich, beautiful imagery, I found the substance of the plot lacking. There were several plot holes that left me scratching my head as I finished the novel. Why are Mr. A.H. and Hector Bowen forcing magicians to compete? What’s the purpose of this competition? Also, while Marco and Celia’s love story is sweet, I found it lackluster. While I could describe in detail the sights, sounds, and smells of the circus, I cannot for the life of me explain why Marco and Celia love each other. Their love story was shallow, lacking compelling details that would’ve been useful in raising the stakes even higher in their treacherous competition. I was also confused by the inclusion of Tara’s death. How did this impact the story? Did she accidentally step in front of the train, or was it suicide? I think suicide is too complicated and tragic to gloss over or slide into a story without explanation. While on the topic of death, I was confused by the murder of Friedrich Thiessen as well. Morgenstern implies that Chandresh was aiming for Mr. A.H. and that he sidestepped, allowing it to hit Friedrich instead. Why didn’t anyone further investigate his death? Didn’t anyone want to know who killed him? The same goes for Tara; why didn’t anyone further investigate her death? SO. MANY. QUESTIONS.
One final note: I would suggest physically reading the novel rather than using an audiobook. The narrative is nonlinear; it jumps from multiple perspectives, times, and places. While the audiobook wasn’t a bad experience, I would have preferred to read the story instead so that I could flip back to confusing spots and keep track of the change of perspective. Overall, I loved the story and I would highly recommend for a fun, entertaining read (or listen!).