Review: The Night Circus By Erin Morgenstern

From the back cover

You may tell a tale that takes up residence in someone’s soul, becomes their blood and self and purpose. That tale will move them and drive them and who knows what they might do because of it, because of your words. That is your role, your gift.

An impressive debut novel by Erin Morgenstern, The Night Circus is one of those stories which either captivates the reader, or puts them to sleep and thankfully I was most definitely captivated.  Set in the late 1800s, you are introduced to 2 young magicians – Celia and Marco who have without choice, been trained for a contest that will span the majority of their lives.  The playing field for the contest is The Night Circus, a wondrous and magical Cirque Du Soleil-esque affair that mysteriously appears in different locations around the world only to vanish again after a few days leaving a profound impact on those who visit it.

The story is filled with beautiful prose, there were so many quotes that resonated with me and provided such a rich texture for the story that I guess I understand why both the author and editor let the story run away with itself.  I certainly would have found it hard culling some of those poetic paragraphs even though the story felt at times like one long description with no real plot or substance.  The book is a little under 400 pages yet it was a long 400 pages and I often caught myself wondering if it was ever going to end and if anything was actually going to happen.

The book is written in 3rd person which makes it quite hard to connect with the characters and I felt it made the romance between Celia and Marco a little hard to swallow.  Yes there were endless paragraphs about lights flickering when they touched and how the world stopped when they looked into each others eyes but it simply came across as text, you never really got to feel or understand why they loved each other so completely. The main characters were disappointing all round – very 2 dimensional with no defining characteristics or redeemable qualities other than their magic. The secondary characters, Isobel,  Alexander, Tsukiko, Chandresh, & Friedrick  Thiessen were much more interesting and are what kept this story fresh and dynamic.

The circus itself is quite simply the star of the show.  The immersion is complete and sensory, the exhibits sound purely breathtaking, I want to visit the Ice Garden, make a wish on the Wishing Tree and just sit and watch Friedrick  Thiessen’s clock as it goes through its 24 hour cycle.

“You think, as you walk away from Le Cirque des Reves 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.”

I wavered while reading this story between a 3 star and 4 star rating.  I was leaning towards 3 stars until I read the last few chapters – the solid ending definitely tipped the scales and I decided this book was worth the 4 stars. While this was no fast paced climax that left you on the edge of your seat exhilarated, it was a thoroughly satisfying finale.  Like one of Chandresh’s midnight feasts, this isn’t something to be rushed, instead take your time to enjoy and mull over the minute details.

I’ll leave you with one more quote:

“Stories have changed, my dear boy,” the man in the grey suit says, his voice almost imperceptibly sad. “There are no more battles between good and evil, no monsters to slay, no maidens in need to rescue. Most maidens are perfectly capable of rescuing themselves in my experience, at least the ones worth something, in any case. There are no longer simple tales with quests and beasts and happy endings. The quests lack clarity of goal or path. The beasts take different forms and are difficult to recognize for what they are. And there are never really endings, happy or otherwise. Things keep overlapping and blur, your story is part of your sister’s story is part of many other stories, and there in no telling where any of them may lead. Good and evil are a great deal more complex than a princess and a dragon, or a wolf and a scarlet-clad little girl. And is not the dragon the hero of his own story? Is not the wolf simply acting as a wolf should act? Though perhaps it is a singular wolf who goes to such lengths as to dress as a grandmother to toy with its prey.”

Rating ★★★★☆


Author Erin Morgenstern
Book series Stand Alone Novel
Genre Fantasy / Historical Fiction / Young Adult
Publisher Doubleday
Published September 2011
Source Purchased for Kindle
More The Night Circus By Erin Morgenstern at Goodreads
The Night Circus By Erin Morgenstern at Amazon
The Night Circus By Erin Morgenstern at The Book Depository
30 Comments:

Great review :) I have to say I agree with you about Celia and Marco being boring characters, but I thought they weren’t as much the focus of the story as the circus itself. I looooved the descriptions!

Thanks :) The circus was really the main character but I still felt they could have been fleshed out a little bit more, or made to be that little bit more personable.

Wonderful review. When I first heard about this bok, I wasn’t interested in reading it, but after reading so many rave reviews on it, I decided to give it a try. I really enjoyed it. I agree with you about the importance of the circus.

Thank you! It was a great book, I’m so glad I read it too – and it’s nice to read a stand alone every now and then, there are so many series these days!

As a debut, I think The Night Circus is an impressive book. How I wish the plot to be thicker since there are a lot of pages in that book…

Good review!

Thanks for stopping by my blog and commenting. It definitely had some flaws but it did come together at the end at least :)

This is a book I have been curious about for a while. I may pick it up this summer as something to read on vacation. Thanks for this review.

Cheers – it’s definitely worth reading, it was fantastic albeit a little slow moving :)

Stephanie says:

I agree with a lot of things that you said in this review. I loved the whole atmosphere of the book and it made me want to go to the circus so bad! But I didn’t connect to the characters as much either.

It’s a pity about the characters but I guess thats the price you pay for writing a story in the 3rd person, it’s hard to convey emotions. Thanks for reading!

Aliaa El-Nashar says:

I’ve heard impressive things about this book, I really want to read it

It’s so great! Hope you get your hands on it soon :)

I absolutely love the cover of this book! I wish they did more like this. I’ve heard the same things about not connecting with the characters that some people mentioned, but I think I’ll pick it up anyway.

It isn’t common for me to enjoy a story if I don’t like the central characters but this one is unique in that I still loved it – definitely worth reading!

My friends have been bugging me to read this book and seeing that everyone only has amazing to say about it, I really should read it soon. Thanks for the review! :D

It is fantastic! I hope you get onto it shortly :)

I really did enjoy this book, mainly for the descriptions, much like you said! BEAUTIFUL prose.

It was beautiful prose – I actually just read another book that I had high hopes at the beginning would be quite similar as the writing style was the same (Advent by James Treadwell). Unfortunately the story is no where near as good :(

This is one of those books that has stuck out in the store to me for awhile now and I’ve started to read reviews on it recently. Although you saw some flaws in it, I’m glad you liked it overall, it encourages me to give it a chance!

It is a little slow but worth the read – its an extra bonus that it’s a stand alone in my opinion, don’t have to worry about investing time into an entire series!

Interesting, it’s unusual to see such ‘literary’ writing in something marketed as YA. Added it to my wish list. :)

Yes – it’s at the more mature end of the YA market I think! Hope you get a chance to read it soon!

Advent by James Treadwell | Tea, Daydreams & Fairytales says:

[…] to like it, I truly did and infact at the beginning I felt it held the same sort of promise that The Night Circus did, unfortunately Treadwell just didn’t manage to maintain […]

The Night Circus sounds wonderful. I recently bought this at a sale after lusting over it for a year. Thanks for the review. :)

Hope you get to read it soon in that case :)

The cover totally drew me to this book in the bookstore. I really want to read it, but I’ve read a lot of mixed reviews. I think I might try to find a used copy.

It wouldn’t be everyone’s cup of tea and it is quite a slow read but I did enjoy it and I agree the cover is sensational – really eye catching!

Thanks for your honest review :)

A friend of mine lent me this book and was raving about it. I started it but couldn’t get into it. Then I read so much about it in the blogosphere that I chose it for a giveaway prize. I still haven’t read it.

Honestly, I’m afraid it won’t live up to the hype. I’m also wary of the writing style(3rd person seems so impersonal. Jodi Picoult, one of my favorite authors, writes each chapter from a character’s POV. I love that style b/c I really get to know the characters).

But I do love descriptive writing and have a notebook in which I write favorite quotes.

After reading your review, I may give it another try.

It did start out a little slow but I do think it is worth reading. I agree Jodi Picoult is an awesome writer – I’ve read everything by her except for Sing You Home and the one she wrote with her daughter Between the Lines :) If you get your hands on a copy of Night Circus and have some time I hope you try it again!

Review: Advent, James Treadwell | Tea in the TreetopsTea in the Treetops says:

[…] to like it, I truly did and in fact at the beginning I felt it held the same sort of promise that The Night Circus did, unfortunately Treadwell just didn’t manage to maintain […]

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