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The Night Circus


The Night Circus

When I was at the BookExpo America publishing convention earlier this year, I kept bumping into the same fancifully attired young people. Dressed in elaborate black-and-white costumes, they were handing out snacks advertising the forthcoming publication of Erin Morgenstern's THE NIGHT CIRCUS. I had never heard of the author, and when I learned that this was, in fact, her debut novel, I was even more intrigued. It's rare for a publisher to hype a book by a relative unknown with such confidence. Morgenstern's publishers must believe they really have something special on their hands.

"THE NIGHT CIRCUS is the real deal, the kind of novel that will appeal to romantics, history buffs, circus aficionados, mystery fans, and lovers of a good story."

It turns out they were right. THE NIGHT CIRCUS is the real deal, the kind of novel that will appeal to romantics, history buffs, circus aficionados, mystery fans, and lovers of a good story. Set at the turn of the 20th century, it alternates between short scenes of more traditional storytelling and lyrical passages like this, which set the scene: "Your curiosity got the better of you, as curiosity is wont to do. You stand in the fading light, the scarf around your neck pulled up against the chilly evening breeze, waiting to see for yourself exactly what kind of circus only opens once the sun sets... The circus looks abandoned and empty. But you think perhaps you can smell caramel wafting through the evening breeze, beneath the crisp scent of the autumn leaves. A subtle sweetness at the edges of the cold."

At the center of the more traditional story are Celia and Marco, two young people picked to participate in a lifelong high-stakes magic contest, before they even understood what magic was. Celia is the daughter of the famous illusionist Prospero the Enchanter, a daughter he didn't know he had until she showed up at his doorstep following her mother's death. Celia has a certain amount of talent, but it's disorganized at best; she manipulates objects, sometimes intentionally, in a moment of fear or anger. But Prospero knows a competitor when he meets one, and he enlists Celia in a game she won't fully understand until much later. Marco, her unknowing opponent, is plucked from an orphanage by Prospero's archrival and trained from the ground up. Marco's skills have more to do with mind than matter, which makes the ongoing competition between the two that much more intriguing.

As Marco and Celia grow up and both get involved with the mysterious Night Circus that pops up unexpectedly all over the world, the true stakes of their competition become clear. The two are fascinated with each other --- or perhaps just with each other's magic --- and their skills grow both more elaborate and more crucial as they grow into themselves.

THE NIGHT CIRCUS is the kind of dreamy, fanciful, romantic magical-realism novel that will appeal to fans of CHOCOLAT. Steeped in circus lore, filled with evocative scenes of magic and illusion, enriched by characters as varied as the clockmaker who crafted the circus's iconic timepiece, and Bailey, a young boy fascinated by the circus (and by Celia), THE NIGHT CIRCUS is worth staying up for.

Reviewed by Norah Piehl on September 13, 2011

The Night Circus
by Erin Morgenstern

  • Publication Date: July 3, 2012
  • Genres: Fiction
  • Paperback: 528 pages
  • Publisher: Anchor
  • ISBN-10: 0307744434
  • ISBN-13: 9780307744432