by The Wanderer
Author: Erin Morgenstern
Publisher: Anchor Books
Genre: Steampunk, Literary Fantasy
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The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern is her debut novel and it was released in 2011. It’s a popular fiction novel that was intended for adults, but it can also speak to teenage readers, too. I’ll be honest I bought this book on a whim, mostly because I thought the cover to the book looked awesome. I’ve judged books by their covers before with disastrous results, but with this book it turned out to be fantastic. I guess the old saying about judging books by their covers will need to be changed to: Judge a Book By Its Cover. It just paid off for me!
This book has received comparisons to the Twilight and Harry Potter series by the book’s publisher, and by some of the early reviews in the media. However, I was pleasantly surprised to find out this book is nothing like the Twilight series, and it’s nothing like the Harry Potter series either. I get that by comparing the book to Twilight that the publishers hope to engage younger readers and earn more money, but by comparing this book to Twilight, a lot of damage gets done to the quality and reputation of the book. I just don’t think the comparison was warranted. Anyways…Here is my review of The Night Circus.
This book is about a traveling circus that is only open at night. It has a black and white only color scheme to all of its exhibits, its performers are always dressed in black and white, too. The circus is called the Cirque des Reves, which translates to the Circus of Dreams. This is no ordinary circus though, because the circus itself, unbeknownst to the public that visits it and even to many of its performers, is a battleground to a magical competition that was set in place years ago.
The two competitors in this battle are Celia Bowen, a thematic representation of natural talent who faces off against Marco Alistair, a thematic representation of learned talent. Learned vs natural talent are one of many sets of opposites that are paired off against one another in this book’s rich thematic landscape. Celia and Marco both are capable of doing real magic and compete by trying to make more elaborate circus exhibits than one another. Their unique abilities and relationship with the circus leads to them falling in love and looking for a way to try and stop to the competition and save the circus that they had no say in being a part of in the first place. Simultaneously we are introduced to a young child named Bailey who dreams of joining the Cirque des Reves one day, much to the dismay of his family.
Despite Twilight comparisons, The Night Circus bears an incredibly remarkable similarity to a different story, The Tempest by William Shakespeare. Morgenstern explores a lot of the ideas that are found in The Tempest, most notably the idea that The Tempest is like an insiders view into watching a writer create a story, that revolves around bringing the world into line with the author’s own ideas.
The Night Circus is just like that. Morgenstern even goes as far as to create a character named Prospero, who like Shakespeare’s Prospero is a master of magic and illusion. The Night Circus does a fantastic job of coming up with its own unique retelling of the Shakespeare classic.
Images and visuals are also very powerful in this book. The bonfire that powers the circus, the giant constantly changing clock, and the black and white color scheme of the circus and its performers act as a very enjoyable and easy to visualize type of eye candy for the reader. This book would make a great film with all of its memorable visuals. Morgenstern has a great imagination, too. Her various exhibits in the circus include a never ending labyrinth, which pays a nice tribute to the Greek story with the minotaur, a beautiful ice garden makes up another tent, and my personal favorite the cloud maze, a tent with white fluffy material and lots of platforms that are erected in irregular patterns, with one of goals of the tent being to climb to the top.
Another great aspect of this book is the use of 2nd person narration, a literary device that is rarely seen. Although most of the book is told in a subjective 3rd person, Morgenstern adds chapters into the book in 2nd person from the perspective of someone who is visiting the exhibits at the Cirque de Reves. The 2nd person chapters give the reader a more visual, realistic, and personal experience of what it’s like to be at this circus.
The only real weakness of this book is some of the character development that happens on an emotional level. I’m attached to the characters in this book especially Bailey and the twins he hangs out with, but some of the more romantic scenes between Marco and Celia don’t match the high level of writing established by the rest of the book. Nevertheless, this is really the only thing that bothered me about the book.
I recommend this book to everyone of course. However, here are some more specific ideas that went into the book, and if you like these ideas then this book is highly recommended to you.
This book deals with elements of magic and fantasy. Specifically speaking of magic, it’s magic with no rules, and it is a low-medium amount of magic for a fantasy/fiction novel. The opposite of this for example would be Harry Potter, which is magic with rules. I’m a fan of magic without rules, because magic with rules can lead to some serious plot holes.
This book is also very inspirational. It encourages you to follow your dreams much like the Reveurs (dreamers) in the story who dress in black and white while wearing red scarves and follow the circus around the world. The Reveurs chasing the circus is a nice metaphor for chasing your dreams. If that isn’t enough, there is character named Bailey who has to choose to do what his parents want him to do or to follow his dream of joining the circus. This book has some very inspirational undertones and can certainly motivate you to follow your dreams.