Words In: The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

The Night Circus, like many very popular books, seems to divide opinion. Lots of “best of the year” lists and five-star reviews, but quiet a few 1- and 2-star reviews as well. There’s a lot of magic here, both in the literal sense and metaphorically in term of atmosphere and wonder. Circus imagery abounds, which is not a surprise given the title, and the “black and white with a dash of red” color scheme of the cover seems to be the color of just about everyone and everything in the story. Descriptions are rich with detail, and it would be fair to say Erin Morgenstern devotes at least as much attention to describing the accoutrements of the circus as developing her major characters.

Le Cirque des Rêves, a seemingly mystical traveling circus which appears without warning, vanishes just as suddenly, and is only open to patrons at night. A pair of young magicians, Celia and Marco, are brought up in lifelong magical training, each by an adoptive father figure, in preparation for a competition between these two older men which will be played out by Celia and Marco, at some time in the future.

If the book has one failing, it’s a greater focus on the performances and mechanisms of the circus and the magical contest than on the internal workings of the characters. The story is not perfect, but the writing is so lushly descriptive and image-rich, the setting so attractive, I found myself in love with it all anyway. I believe this is one of those books prospective readers can easily judge by the cover and synopsis. If it doesn’t seem like your kind of thing, it almost certainly isn’t. Those readers to whom the central conceit seems interesting will likely be enchanted and forgive the book its few shortcomings. Many, like me, will adore this book and find themselves eagerly awaiting a followup from this first-time novelist.

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