This is a spoiler-free blog because I don’t want to ruin it for my book clubbers who I know haven’t finished it yet and who I know read this blog. It’s too good. I don’t want to spoil it for you, friends.
A circus made of tents that run on magic and is only open from nightfall till dawn. A circus that is only black and white. A circus that appears with no warning and disappears the same. A circus unlike any that has ever existed or will ever exist. This is Le Cirque du Reves, the Circus of Dreams.
This is a story that moves swiftly through description and wonder, yet is constantly standing still. One of the biggest complaints I’ve heard about this book is that it moves so slowly, but I can’t understand that. The plot is secondary to the story.
This book is set up in the format of a traditional illusionist’s trick. First step, the Pledge. Prospero/Hector and Alexander meet to open a new game, a lifelong competition between candidates chosen for their innate abilities. However, this time, Prospero’s candidate is his daughter, which adds a layer to the mystery. From the beginning, it is made clear that Celia’s abilities are inherent, while Marco’s are taught, though both are immeasurable in the end.
Second is the Turn, in which the magician makes the ordinary act extraordinary. This portion is the majority of the book, the stage for the competition set as the circus, where Celia is the illusionist and Marco the book-keeper and administrative backbone from London. This part allows Celia and Marco to create the tents in the circus and learn more about each other and their own talents. For an extended period, Celia doesn’t know Marco is her opponent, though to be fair she doesn’t really know Marco at all, and the two of them simply create, working in tandem and in spirited competition to create a fantastical show. This is the part of the book that truly captures the reader, as well, opening his or her eyes to a world unlike any other. We’re all familiar with the standard circus, but this is something else entirely. Celia and Marco control everything about the circus, she from within and he from headquarters in London. Though they interact regularly for years on circus business, it is when they come to understand their positions as competitors as well as realizing they are in love that the plot truly begins to unfurl.
And really, this is where I fell in love with the book. There are so many beautiful descriptions of the various tents in the circus in this part of the book. Each tent holds wonders created by Celia and/or Marco for the other, and Morgenstern’s imaginative ability truly shines in these descriptions. These aren’t just visual descriptions – each of the tents is a fully realized sensory experience, not an easy feat for a writer. It’s as if Morgenstern is Celia herself, holding the circus together by sheer inner will.
Finally, the last act is the Prestige, in which it is revealed that while this is a game to Hector and Alexander, for Celia and Marco it is a test to the death. For the competition to end, one of them must die, though this reality is unfathomable to both. As they come in contact with a previous competitor as well as a few who know of the circumstances, they must face the truth and decide how to finish the competition. And I was ultimately both shocked and thrilled by the ending.
But really – this book surprised me in the best way possible. It was the best kind of magic. The kind that not only ends differently than you expect but makes you clap your hands with surprised awe. This isn’t a trick – this is real magic, written deftly in the hands of a talented debut author.
As far as characterization went, you can’t really ask for more. I thought the duality of Celia and Marco could have been brought out a little more, but ultimately I was pleased. Because the story moved slowly, there was ample opportunity for not only introduction to sweepingly broad circus characters but incredibly intimate moments with almost all of them. The main subplot of the story, the lives of the Murray twins, was well-thought-out and tied into the magic enough to stay relevant while being its own story.
I know this book isn’t for everyone, but it was my favorite style. Enough plot to keep you going while you focus on the characters. Really, the relationships were the plot. I didn’t feel the need to have a fast-paced plot here. A love story layered with almost unlimited magic? Yes, please.
I don’t know about you, but I certainly wound up a reveur.
And to show you how much I mean it, I’m giving away a copy of The Night Circus. This giveaway runs from now until midnight next Saturday, October 8th.
If you’ve already read the book, I’d love to hear your thoughts as well. Go ahead and comment, and I’ll make sure to take your comments out of the giveaway stack. Tell me what you thought! Love it or hate it?
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