Review: “The Night Circus” by Erin Morgenstern

Did I break out my Prom mask for this? Yeah.

“The Circus arrives without warning…”

The infamous opening line that spawned no less than three high school book projects and a whole host of longing to run away to a magical circus. That’s right, ladies and gentlemen, it’s the famous fantasy extravaganza; The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern. 

So why am I re-reading The Night Circus after 10 years? Well, because I’ve been living under a rock for a year now, I just learned that Erin Morgenstern has released a spiritual successor called The Starless Sea and before I jump on into that, I have to go back to the beginning and immerse myself in her transformative writing style.

Everyone knows that you read this book for the imagery. Erin Morgenstern has an uncanny ability to lift you up from whatever mainstream, boring life you’ve found yourself in and transport you straight into Le Cirque des Rêves. It’s just that good. 

The very first page (and occasional bouts in between the main storylines) undoubtedly will throw you off. It’s in 2nd POV– a bold choice– and allows you to act as this sort of nameless, faceless ghost who is seeing the circus for your ownself, rather than as a character. It feels like a personalized greeting, even in a storyline that couldn’t be farther removed from your own life. Through the main gates and into the monochromatic black and white circus, you twirl with wide eyes as you’re introduced, briefly because the real meat of the story comes later, to the attractions of the circus.

But just because the book excels in its descriptive qualities, does not mean it lacks in other departments. 

The book takes off, as most books do, with a boy and a girl from very different backgrounds— actually strike that, it takes off with a decades old bet between two Magicians who have been pitting “students” of each other’s respective teaching style into magical death matches. Yeah, it’s as intense and badass as it sounds. But instead of swords and fists, the two students duel in illusions– sights and garments and objects bended to their will, all under the uncomprehending eyes of the greater public– and that’s where the circus comes into play. It acts as a showcase, a stage for our two duelers to battle from city to city, year to year. 

Celia and Marco- hi duelers!– were just children when they were bound to this game and the book watches them grow up. From their early training styles (where Celia’s mentor slices her fingers open until she can tearfully put them back together, and Marco is hidden away in a townhouse with nothing but books to keep him company), to the little breadcrumbs strewn together by them to get the circus up and running and, by extension, their game up and running, we see it all. They are pitted against each other, they meet, the world turns on its head and the casualties of their game spans tenfold. 

And as much as the story is about Celia and Marco, it’s about every secondary odd and vaguely magical character who had a hand in getting the Circus up and running as well. 

Twins born at midnight on the opening day of the circus, a Japanese contortionist with much more experience about the “Game” than meets the eyes, a clockmaker, a Romanian ballerina, and a curious boy who sneaks into the circus in the daylight– every character, no matter how small they seem at the time have a hand in pulling the pieces of plot together. And it’s often the characters that you least expect that hold the most weight.

And that includes you. You, the reader, are an avid character in the book. You represent the swaths of people watching this showcase between two dueling illusionists. You are the child who buys carmel apple, or visits the fortune teller, or gets lost in the hall of a thousand mirrors. You make this story as much as any of them.

I could wax poetic about this book forever, but I’ll end it nice and easily with just a request that you read the first chapter. Once you read the first chapter, you will be transported into the Circus of Dreams with the rest of us. 4/5.

Opens at Midnight,
Closes at Dawn

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