Book Review: The Night Circus

Updated on April 20, 2019
Evelyn Williamson profile image

Short story author who reads and writes young adult fantasy.

Back of the Book Summary

The circus arrives without warning. No announcements precede it. It is simply there when yesterday it was not. Within the black-and-white striped canvas tents is an utterly unique experience full of breathtaking amazements. 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. Unbeknownst to them, this is a game in which only one can be left standing, and the circus is but the stage for a remarkable battle of imagination and will. Despite themselves, however, Celia and Marco tumble headfirst into love—a deep, magical love that makes the lights flicker and the room grow warm whenever they so much as brush hands.

True love or not, the game must play out, and the fates of everyone involved, from the cast of extraordinary circus per­formers to the patrons, hang in the balance, suspended as precariously as the daring acrobats overhead.

Overview

I enjoyed this book mostly for the setting, it was brilliantly described and not a second of that description was boring, there were flaws, of course, but we’ll get to that. I loved the twins Poppet (Penelope) and Widget (Winston) as well as the clockmaker (Herr Friedrick Thiessen) they were without a doubt my favorite characters. I wasn’t a fan of the romance of the main characters and the plot was a bit... meh, but the book was still incredibly enjoyable, regardless, due to Erin Morgenstern’s phenomenal writing ability.

We’ll start with the bad parts so we can end on a happy note, shall we?

Potentially Offensive Content:

Language:

There was quite a bit of swearing and rude language in this book. No one was dropping F-bombs every other line but Celia’s father has a pretty foul mouth.

Immorality:

Marco is the biggest offender this time. He has his girlfriend move in with him pretty early in the book and starts making advances at Celia long before he breaks up with her. There are also some sexy times between him and Celia that got a little too explicit for me, though no actual sex is shown just nudity and too much touching (time to hit the +30 seconds button methinks)

Violence: While the violence is surprisingly low for a book that’s cover describes it being a battle of magicians there are a couple of deaths, one off screen and the other very much on screen. No gory details were mentioned, just some blood.

Cons:

  1. The Romance: I did not enjoy the romance between the main characters. It sounded more like how a high school girl would talk to her quarterback crush than a healthy relationship. While I admit I am not a romance fan and predisposed to dislike romance as plot, especially if that romance is a forbidden ‘Romeo and Juliet’ romance, but when a conversation goes like this: “Do you remember all of your audiences?" Marco asks. "Not all of them," Celia says. "But I remember the people who look at me the way you do." "What way might that be?" "As though they cannot decide if they are afraid of me or they want to kiss me." "I am not afraid of you," Marco says.” or I hear this: “I have tried to let you go and I cannot. I cannot stop thinking of you. I cannot stop dreaming about you.” come out of a character’s mouth my gag reflexes start kicking in.

  2. The Magical Teleporting Narrative: For the love of peanut butter and jelly on toast this narrative. Every scene is disconnected from every other scene. One minute we’ll be at the circus and the next we’ll be years in the future with Bailey. There are dates and locations markers that attempt to tell you what’s going on when, but that’s something that should be told in the story, not as a tiny little timestamp that most people will skip over anyway. It’s especially bad in the audiobook version, which is the version I experienced, as the narrator reads that and then the reader forgets it by the end of the first paragraph. I was a good way into the book before I even realized Bailey’s adventure was set years after the rest of the story. And really it’s just confusing, some scenes would just be a character performing a single action before we jump to a whole different scene that had nothing to do with the previous. I do not like jumpy narratives at all.

  3. The Magic: or rather the lack of onscreen (or on the page, I guess) magic. There was some, of course, Celia heals herself quite often and Marco can change the way he looks but I’m talking about the big cool stuff. I wanted to see Celia enchant the carousel, I wanted to watch Marco grow the ice garden, but nope, I get to see Celia talking about the carousel and Celia walking around the ice garden, instead, I get to see her turn her coat into a bird and him mess with someone’s memories. Thrilling.

Pros:

  1. The Ending: The ending has closure for most if not all the characters, I won’t go into details to avoid spoilers, but I’ll give one example. It is revealed that one of the characters wrote The Night Circus in-universe. I love it when books do that, it reminds me of The Outsiders which was a childhood favorite of mine (and the only book to make me legitimately cry.)

  2. The Magic: Yeah it’s both a pro and a con, so sue me. While I would have liked to have seen it being the created the magic in the book is beautiful and imaginative. The ice garden and the living carousel, the cloud maze and the train packing itself up all sounds fantastic and marvelous and just shows you the incredible power these two have and how deeply intertwined they are with the circus itself. Each character that can use it has their own skills and specialties and even some of those who don't use magic do things that are so outstanding that it makes you wonder if everyone uses magic whether they know it or not.

  3. The Setting: My goodness the setting, this is what you should read the book for if nothing else. It’s incredible. I’ve never seen an author use so much description without any of it getting dull. I wanted to smell the caramel and popcorn, I wanted to feel the clouds in the cloud maze, I wanted to see the ice garden and hear the crowds and taste the choco. I wanted to be there and at times I was there...

  4. Second Person: I am incredibly impressed with the use of second person point of view to put the reader right in the middle of the circus. I have never seen the second person done well before, but here it was magical. The scenes in the second person don’t drive the plot and they don’t give character development. For any other author that would be cause for instant removal from the book, but here? The book wouldn’t be what it is without them. As a writer, I will never forget the effectiveness of the second person to describe the setting, and as a ready, I will always remember walking through the circus myself just as the characters did in the narrative.

“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 the dream.”

The Night Circus: By Erin Morgenstern

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