Book review: The Night Circus

The night circusWhen I finished “The Night Circus” by Erin Morgenstern, my first reaction was it felt more like young adult fiction rather than fantasy fiction, which to be honest, is not my favorite genre.

But there is simply this enduring factor about circuses and the mystical shadows of the night that drew me to the novel, and it was undoubtedly wonderful to be led into this magical world of Le Cirque des Rêves, or the Circus of Dreams, with its almost lyrical prose.

“You step into a bright, open courtyard surrounded by striped tents.

There are vendors traversing the crowd around you, selling refreshments and oddities, creations flavored with vanilla and honey, chocolate and cinnamon.

A contortionist in a sparkling black costume twists on a platform nearby, bending her body into impossible shapes.

A juggler tosses globes of black and white and silver high into the air, where they seem to hover before falling again into his hands, his attentive spectators applauding.

All bathed in glowing light.”

The main protagonists are Celia Bowen and Marco Alisdair, two magicians masking their real abilities to showcase their talents as illusionary tricks in the circus that only opens from past midnight to dawn. It is so secretive that its traveling locations are never known except when strange tents are set up overnight, locals will know the night circus has arrived.

“It is these aficionados, these rêveurs, who see the details in the bigger picture of the circus. They see the nuance of the costumes, the intricacy of the signs. They buy sugar flowers and do not eat them, wrapping them in paper instead and carefully bringing them home. They are enthusiasts, devotees. Addicts. Something about the circus stirs their souls, and they ache for it when it is absent.”

The book is being paced with questions built upon more questions to create an air of mystery that is punctuated with the lives of numerous interesting side characters giving it added texture. My favorite character will have to be clockmaker Herr Fredrick Thiessen, who is an ardent follower of the circus and the unofficial leader of the rêveurs. His fascination drove him to frequently write reviews about the circus for newspapers.

“I enjoyed your writings about the circus,” Celia said. “It is a perspective that I am not able to view it from properly because I… understand it in a different way. I like being able to see it through your eyes…”

“Thank you, Miss Bowen,” Fredrick says.”

But the letdown for me would have to be the last one-third of the book when the protagonists finally tackled the crux of the problem, only to burst the magical bubble and let it become a sappy love story. It was honestly a massive disappointment and pardon me if I insert a GIF here:

As much as the ending is unsatisfactory, this is still a good respite from novels that tend to be heavily grounded in reality.

“The step through the gates that takes you from painted ground to bare grass feels heavy.

You think, as you walk away from Le Cirque des Rêves and into the creeping dawn, that you felt more awake within the confines of the circus.

You are no longer quite certain which side of the fence is dawn.”

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10 thoughts on “Book review: The Night Circus

  1. I really liked the Night Circus, but I see your point regarding the last bit of the book. Still, I felt the first half was so strong and enchanting, and the other circus characters were so engaging that the last bit didn’t diminish the story. I actually think Morgenstern should make a children’s scratch-n-sniff, pop-up circus book (sold with a red scarf of course).

  2. Good review! I tried to read this book but couldn’t get into it. For me, it took too long to get to any sort of point. I liked the magic elements though and descriptions of the circus.

  3. This makes me wonder if authors are adding in sappy love stories to sell. What is coming to this world if we can’t have a book without a love story and a happy ending? Good post. Gonna have to read this one

    1. Pretty good question there. I’m personally not quite a big fan of sappy love stories because they can get cheesy at times and in this case, the ending of “The night circus” unfortunately fell into the cheesy category, which was sad given how beautifully it was described and built up.

  4. Herr Fredrick Thiessen was my favorite too. What annoyed me about the end (spoilers) was not so much the love story, but the got-there-just-too-late-so-disaster-ensues manipulation.

    1. For me, it was certainly all the magical beauty that culminated in a young adult fiction boy-meets-girl-together-forever ending that left me hugely disappointed. I know how you felt

  5. I so completely agree with your review. When I read this two years back, I was captivated by the lovely descriptions of the circus and its attractions but the books became tedious after the first half and the end was disappointing to say the least!

    1. I think similar sentiments were shared by a few of us towards the love story ending! I would have much preferred if they could have stuck to the game and battle their skills out or maybe something purely magical to end it all off with a bang.

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