02 August 2023

Review: The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern book cover

"The circus arrives without warning."
The opening lines of The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern draw the reader into a whole new world, where magic is real and those with the gift disguise their talent as illusionists or magicians. Two magicians are pitted against each other as youngsters in a challenge that lasts their lifetime, eventually converging at the circus.

Beginning in 1873, the travelling circus of the title is known as Le Cirque des RĂªves (The Circus of Dreams) and is only open at night. The magic deployed by performers at the circus is to delight, entertain and astonish those who visit, and the circus is a wonderland more than the centre of any magic battle.

Elite circus personalities regularly attend an exclusive midnight dinner party when they're not working, and my mouth was watering at the tasty morsels and decadent cuisine described, but check out the desserts:
"The desserts are always astonishing. Confections deliriously executed in chocolate and butterscotch, berries bursting with creams and liqueurs. Cakes layered to impossible heights, pastries lighter than air. Figs that drip with honey, sugar blown into curls and flowers. Often diners remark that they are too pretty, too impressive to eat, but they always find a way to manage." Page 69
It was here in the book that I noticed the prose reminded me of the descriptive writing style I enjoyed in The Starless Sea; momentarily forgetting that it's by the same author!! While at the same time patting myself on the back for noticing the similar descriptive style, should I be concerned that I failed to remember the same author penned both urban fantasy novels?

The circus performers are talented and Padva was a terrific character, impeccably described here:
"On this evening, Mme. Padva wears a dress of black silk, hand embroidered with intricate patterns of cherry blossoms, something like a kimono reincarnated as a gown. Her silver hair is piled atop her head and held in place with a small jeweled black cage. A choker of perfectly cut scarlet rubies circles her neck, putting forth a vague impression of her throat having been slit. The overall effect is slightly morbid and incredibly elegant." Page 70
Wouldn't you give anything to see her? The Night Circus is begging to be adapted for the big screen, and a quick search confirms the TV and film rights were optioned years ago. The alluring black and white striped tents, the incredible illusions and the otherworldly clock are ripe for cinematic interpretation, all that's missing is the smell of caramel and popcorn.

The power of The Night Circus is the circus itself, held together with evocative writing and the power of description. Not a lot happens between the characters, with an overarching theme driving the plot but without much action. I was expecting a dramatic showdown, denouement or climax that never arrived, thinking perhaps this would happen in the next book. Not so.

I've punched my ticket to The Night Circus later than most, with the success of the book at its peak in 2011. I remember deciding whether or not to request a copy for review, however I'm not really into circus settings or young adult romance, so decided not to. After enjoying The Starless Sea, I'm glad I decided to give this urban fantasy meets historical fiction novel a chance.

A word about editions. I love seeing hardbacks with a sprayed edge, and The Night Circus has produced some of the most stunning editions of any book I've ever seen and I still drool over the deluxe editions and fan art readers have come up with.

Previous visits to the circus on my reading calendar include:
If you want to read about magic showdowns, battles and duels, you won't find it here. If you want to have your imagination stretched and your senses stimulated in a light young adult romance set in the Victorian era with magic, then you will be entranced by The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern. Just don't forget to wear a red scarf. 

My Rating:

Would you like to comment?

  1. I thoroughly enjoyed Night Circus and adored Starless Sea. For an entirely different view of circus life, look for Geek Love by Katherine Dunn, an all-time favorite of mine.

    1. Glad to hear it Vicki, and thanks so much for the recommendation. I haven't read anything by Katherine Dunn so I'll go and check it out!


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