The Night Circus – Book Review (Short)

*May contain mild SPOILERS*

‘The Night Circus’ by Erin Morgenstern was a last minute impulse buy at the checkout counter of my local bookstore. Although everyone is familiar with the idiom, “don’t judge a book by its cover”, in the literal sense it is frequently the opposite that occurs. The cover art caught my eye, and the title sounded unusual, and here we are.

You might have seen this book mentioned in my previous post, where I described it as a “dreamy fantasy”. It certainly is that.

downloadPlot Summary (as on the Penguin Random House Website) “It is called Le Cirque des Rêves, and it is only open at night. But behind the scenes, a fierce competition is underway—a duel between two young magicians, Celia and Marco, who have been trained since childhood expressly for this purpose by their mercurial instructors.” This summary is somewhat misleading. ‘Fierce competition’ are not the words I would use. The action is rather slow-paced. One is well into the book before things start to move in the direction of the promised ‘duel’, which doesn’t exactly occur.

Pros:

I really enjoyed reading the novel in the present tense, and the second-person – the two primary modes of narration for the story. The decision to write in the present tense is uncommon, but it works well with this novel. The prose is beautiful.

The richly described and vividly imagined circus is purely magical! So much so that readers will want to visit it for themselves.

The ending is bittersweet, and works well with the overall plot.

Cons:

Overly descriptive writing. There were multiple times when I noticed I was skim- reading passages. Descriptive writing certainly helps create an atmosphere and helps the reader see what the writer wants them to see. But too much of it tends to prompt skimming.

Whilst set in Victorian times, the story often feels ahistorical.

Central characters are not particularly well developed. I wanted to know so much more about Marco, Celia and Isobel, and also about Hector Bowen and his rivalry with The Man in the Grey Suit. The on-going rivalry is central to the plot yet we know next to nothing about it, other than a few, brief lines at the very end of the novel. I also wanted to know about more installations and attractions at the circus.

On the whole: Despite some of its weaknesses, the book is still highly enchanting and fans of historical fantasy will find it a worthy read.