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Book Review – The Night Circus

Tsukiko sits on the floor in the center of the room, wearing a red kimono. A beating crimson heart in the pale chamber. 

In a story populated by characters who were without personalities, you had to greatly rely on Erin Morgenstern’s sweeping descriptions to keep you connected to the tale unfolding glacially in five hundred bogged down pages, the first 250 of which felt similar to reading a complicated instruction manual on how something unfathomable works.

The characters weren’t much bigger than the parts they played. Everyone had a purpose, but it was small in the grand scheme of things, and that carried over into their portrayals. I didn’t feel anybody or anything was permanent or particularly alive. I didn’t feel grounded in the story until halfway through. I felt like the whole thing, while existing in this seemingly magical world, was dull and insipid, and glaringly obvious in that, I figured out how things would end the minute the first clue was given. 

But, with that being said, the last 250 pages flew by like the paper doves Celia Bowen was able to bring to life. 

The Night Circus follows a duel transpiring between two young magicians, who were trained by opposing forces, their different teaching techniques inspiring a unique bond between two lovers, and all of those they pull into their chaos along the way. But as they continue to manipulate the world around them, and grow farther into greatness, their fates hang in the balance, as in order for the duel to end, one magician must perish. 

I didn’t feel the back flap was a fair portrayal of what exactly unfolded in the pages between it and the striking front cover. This duel did not carry, at any point, the feeling of what one might feel when things tumble into a life or death situation. I never felt the high energy I wanted to. The whole thing was quite sleepy, and I only came to when the young magicians, Celia and Marco, began to fall in love. 

But the first 250 pages lost me completely as a reader. I only finished this book as a testament to who I am as a reviewer, somebody who wants to give each book its fair chance. And because the writing never fell flat at any point, I chose to have faith. 

I am glad I finished the book, because, in theory, this book was quite beautiful. The idea of a circus that lives and breathes only because the magicians and performers within it are acting as its organs and keeping it alive, is quite profound, which is why I chose that quote up above to start the review off. Everyone played a key part, I only wished those parts hadn’t felt so robotic. For young people who barely age and can read the future in the stars, or feel your past by just glancing your way, I never felt like anybody had the freedom to truly explore this world Erin Morgenstern created. It all existed in this tiny confined space. And, in my opinion, it existed there for far too long. 

The book has wavering points of view. Some of them felt completely unnecessary to me. I would go so far as to say that one hundred pages of this novel didn’t need to make it to print. But one point of view in particular, really saved me as a reader. 

I wish Erin had considered making Bailey’s part in the novel larger. Bailey’s point of view was the only contrasting point of view that existed entirely outside the circus. It was the only point of view that seemed at all fantastical, young, and exciting. It gave me that “ooooo, aaaahhh” moment I needed to truly appreciate the circus when it wasn’t someone’s day job or devotion, or venue for a life-long duel. Because, the newness of it faded with each character, but was kept well and alive with Bailey, whose part of the story existed in the future, was told throughout, and only came to head to head with everyone else at the very end.

He felt refreshing. He felt like hope. He felt like the future. Because for the rest of the story, there’s sort of this underlying pessimism, in that you know everyone is doomed, and it definitely wares on you after awhile. I was tedious to fall in love with any of the characters, not that Erin would’ve let me, as they were cold even in love, because I just felt like everything was going to blow up in my face and drag everyone down with it. 

“When you were five years old you turned a laundry tub into a pirate ship and launched an attack against the hydrangeas in my garden.”

He reads histories and mythologies and fairy tales, wondering why it seems that only girls are ver swept away from their mundane lives on farms by knights or princes or wolves

Bailey was romantic. He thought in color. He didn’t create for the sole purpose of outshining another. He was the greatest part of this book because his passion was unwavering, his loyalty infinite, his belief pure. He felt like the only person who felt anything. And I liked the idea of his future not being written. Whereas, everybody else seemed like they were simply walking a straight line into oblivion. Bailey was just flowing with a tide that pushed and pulled at just the right moments and allowed the world the simplest pleasure of unfolding without his manipulation. I read his journey thinking there was no end. And perhaps that’s the idea. That from the outside looking in, much is possible, but much is impossible, and you’re left with reality, which is both a cage, but one you can open should you know how. He didn’t get to see pieces of the future, he was just stuck with the current moment, but stuck in the best of ways. 

Poppet looks up at the night sky. Dark clouds cover most of the stars but pockets of them slide into view, twinkling softly. 

This novel was not without its sparkling lines. I didn’t feel many were profound, or tried to grasp onto something greater than itself, but I did feel like the description, while so heavy and exhausting to wade through at times, was a stroke of magic. To put me there, in the book, despite my struggling to stay there and not close the book for the night because I couldn’t read description any longer, was a great feat. My senses were provoked through and through, and that is not something I’ve been able to say about many books lately. She is a master of settings. But she lacks in pacing. 

I’m not alone in this opinion either. Many reviews chucked this book aside right around the time it would’ve began to get interesting because it is extreme. She sets up this duel for so long, after awhile you’re just sitting there rotting away waiting for her to get to the point. 

The romance did give me butterflies. This shakespearean love. Celia and Marco were magnets from opposing poles. They were bound to each other from the beginning. And there isn’t much that is more enticing than a forbidden love. If the love had began sooner, I wouldn’t have felt so extreme in my saying this book is completely unreadable for the first 250 pages. There’s just nothing to look forward to and no foreseeable end. 

They felt like teenagers exploring love for the first time under the careful watch of their disproving parents. Erin was smart to start the love with fleeting glances and then propel the reader three years into the future where they can hardly keep their hands off each other.

See, the biggest issue was how confusing the book started. This duel never really reveals itself. Nobody understood it, not even the main characters, so then you’re left completely lost, and because you’re putting the book down so much, tired from another long passage of overindulgent prose, you’re having a tough time connecting things together, often forgetting things completely. The book requires you to read it in one sitting, otherwise you’re stuck skimming back over pages you have no desire to read again.

“Few things in this world are clear-cut. A very long time ago–I suppose you could say once upon a time if you wished it to sound a grander tale than it is–”

“All empires fall eventually.”

This is the perfect way to sum up this novel. A magical world stuck in the mind of somebody who is glaringly realistic. 

“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.” 

31/38

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