“How can I excel at a game when you refuse to tell me the rules?” — Erin Morgenstern
The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern is built on an intriguing magical world that is wrapped around a set of imaginative rules of how ‘the game’, so to speak, is played, written in a imaginative, whimsical way while also portrayed in a serious manner based on dark and sinister themes. Morgenstern grabbed my attention as soon as I began listening to the story with the manner of her introduction of world-building and how the main characters were pulled in — two young children are bound into this fantasy world based on competition and magical intrigue without complete understanding of “the rules of the game.” Celia and Marco, at first only still in grade school, are pushed to fight against each other in an environment of intense competition in which they much magically outperform each other with increasingly powerful and complex displays of magic until the other fails… or dies. However, neither of them know the boundaries with which they can perform or even what declares one of them as the winner. This is because they are unknowingly just pawns, forced into the competition by each of their magical instructors, Mr. A.H. and Hector Bowen. Similar to Harry Potter or The Hunger Games, this set structure of rules and competition that is also ambiguous and incomplete leaves room for suspenseful mystery and allows the reader to be curious about the gaps of knowledge in the storyline — this was the fuel for my interest in the story and character development.
Further interesting me in terms of character development was the unexpected and sudden romance between Celia and Marco. Amidst the intense competition forced by Mr. A.H. and Bowen, they develop an intense fascination and romantic interest in each other. I didn’t very much enjoy the fact that the romance bloomed so quickly, because especially in this environment, I would have appreciated this character development more if the romance had gradually developed over time as the competition went on, which would have come across as more realistic and genuine, rather than the sudden obsessive manner of their relationship. Even though their interest in each other grew into love as they matured into adults and as the competition progressed and they got to know each other, the interest in each other still seemed very sudden, such as the “instant love at first sight” feeling I got from listening to their early moments together. For example, when Marco first meets Celia at the auditions for the Chandresh’s Night Circus: “Marco watches her approach, confused at first but then the confusion is replaced with something else entirely” (Morgenstern 92) — the interest developed out of the blue, and in my opinion, it would have been much more effective if Morgenstern had developed their romance gradually, in an evolution from hatred and competition to interest to acceptance and then to romance.
My next point could likely be entirely because I was listening to the audiobook, but I often found the jumps in time from chapter to chapter hazy and confusing. For example, the chapters would jump in time from the early 1890’s, to 1895, to 1893, then back in time again — listening to the story made it all the more difficult to keep up with a story that I imagine would also be confusing to read as well. It was if the reader was expected to remember everything from the previous chapter, but most of the time the next chapter would be from the perspective of someone new, such as jumping between Marco, Celia, Tara, Poppet, and many others. It would get jumbled in my mind, such as the transitions from explaining the circus, including the lengthy description of each individual tent of the circus and the “black and white” characteristics (which I thought was a bit too long), to then continuing forward with the plot. There were several points where I had to rewind the audio recording so that I could grasp where in the story I was. This could be merely just because I am very much a visual learner and I remember details better when I read words on a page, but the confusing nature of the jumps in time and the hazy details of characters in my mind definitely hindered my enjoyment of the story. It also made the story seemed much more slow-paced and it therefore made me less attentive and captivated as a reader. And by the time the story reached the end, shocking events unfolded — Marco and Celia sacrificed themselves together in the fire because they realized there was no end to their competition, but rather than dying, they were magically transported and ended up deep inside the circus indefinitely, not technically dead or alive and therefore, the competition was declared a stalemate. But the haziness of the audiobook made much of the built up suspense and shocking events seem very out of the blue and strange, and the loose strings didn’t seem to connect in my mind like Morgenstern intended them to. On one hand, the haziness of the audiobook listening made it more suspenseful for me because I had less of a clear understanding and therefore had less of a clear prediction of the end, but on the other hand, all of the loose strings still hindered my ability to fully piece together the plot development and it made the end seem too sudden for my liking.
Perhaps if I had physically read the book, the storyline would have been more clearly laid out to me and I would have enjoyed the story much more.
Overall rating: 7/10