Book Club Review: The Night Circus

Meh. I just finished The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern. Meh.

I’d been on the fence about this book, and I’d mentioned it a few times on various posts, but I was really hoping that once I finished, I’d have a firmer opinion for better or for worse. Sorry, that’s not the case. I’m a firm believer that if you want to rate a book, on a scale from 1-5, as a 3 then you should go back and read it again, but I don’t want to read this book again (maybe I do have an opinion after all), so I’m giving it a 2/5.

This book just left me feeling very blah. It had so much potential. The title is interesting. The cover art is beautiful, and the summary (from Amazon)  draws you in:

“The circus arrives without warning. No announcements precede it. It is simply there, when yesterday it was not. Within the black-and-white striped canvas tents is an utterly unique experience full of breathtaking amazements. It is called Le Cirque des Rêves, and it is only open at night. 

But behind the scenes, a fierce competition is underway—a duel between two young magicians, Celia and Marco, who have been trained since childhood expressly for this purpose by their mercurial instructors. Unbeknownst to them, this is a game in which only one can be left standing, and the circus is but the stage for a remarkable battle of imagination and will. Despite themselves, however, Celia and Marco tumble headfirst into love—a deep, magical love that makes the lights flicker and the room grow warm whenever they so much as brush hands. 

True love or not, the game must play out, and the fates of everyone involved, from the cast of extraordinary circus per­formers to the patrons, hang in the balance, suspended as precariously as the daring acrobats overhead. 

Written in rich, seductive prose, this spell-casting novel is a feast for the senses and the heart.”

I had hoped that this book would be like a grown up Harry Potter (a really lofty hope, I know). I wanted to be immersed in a world of magic that also had a compelling love story, but what I got were scattered fragments of a world I could never quite piece together, and a love story where I found myself very apathetic about the outcome for the protagonists.

***SPOILER ALERT***

The book first introduces readers to two old magicians who go by the names Propsero the Enchanter and Mr. A. H-. The two were friends in the past, but now quarrel over their differing views of magic. Prospero, and his magic, is ostentatious, while Mr. A. H- is much more reserved. Their failure to agree on whose method is correct leads them to design and conduct elaborate challenges that pit a student of one against a student of the other.

The book revolves around a challenge between Propsero’s newfound daughter, Celia, and an orphan, Marco who Mr. A. H- plucks from destitution. The two are bound to the challenge from a young age, yet neither is aware who they will face or even what kind of challenge is in store for them. Unfortunately, the reader never quite learns the answer to that second unknown either. Even by the end of the book, I was left wondering what exactly the challenge was about. I get that it was intended to drive one magician to a breaking point allowing the other to win, but both contestants seemed more lovelorn than distressed.  Maybe the mystery is intended to add to the allure, but, I think, if you’re going to introduce something as essential the basis of your book, you should flesh it out a bit more.

Readers do learn that the challenge will be staged in Le Cirque des Reves (The Dream Circus) which combines elements of a real circus, acrobats and big cats, with more magical elements, a wishing tree and a cloud maze. Spectators adore the circus, and some, the Reveurs, follow the circus around the world from location to location. Oh, and the participants involved in the circus (save two young twins) never age. A point that is brought up continually, but has absolutely no effect on the plot of the book.

Celia is a formal member of the circus, as the illusionist. Marco is not, but both young lovers control half the circus through their differing styles of magic. They
meet, and yes, they fall in love. When they touch or kiss the room heats up, things shake or break, papers fly all over, but it’s this love that I couldn’t quite wrap my head around. The couple has so little interaction that it seems as though they’re only in love with one another because their worlds are so consumed by the other person (a point which is later hinted at). That just wasn’t compelling enough for me to get behind them. I also really didn’t like Marco’s treatment of his “girlfriend” Isobel. I came to really like her, and I thought Marco was a complete jerk to her, so I was not thrilled to see him come out on top.

The descriptions of the circus are beautifully written, but they are too few and far between. I never got a good visual of this circus in my head. Spaces in the book devoted to ancillary characters, who never seem to play much of a role should have been devoted to more detail of the circus and the challenge.

Mostly though, everything was just too predictable about this story. I guess it wasn’t really supposed to be suspenseful, but there was just nothing to the book that made me want to keep reading to find out what would happen. It was obvious after the first time the “wizard trapped in the tree” story was told that that’s what Marco and Celia would need to do. The character of Bailey was just so out of place and odd from the beginning that I knew he’d play a major role and guessed he would be taking over the circus about halfway through the book. The two “shocking” deaths were not compelling as the author doesn’t do a very good job of developing characters the reader cares about. Herr Thiesen was actually one of my favorite characters, and I still didn’t really care that he died.

I could go on about the things I didn’t like, but I won’t. I really don’t know what it was about this book. If someone asked me what it was about, I’d be hard pressed to tell them. Even in writing this post, I can tell you what happened, but I don’t know what it was about. Maybe me hopes were set too high, but I just feel like this book was a waste of a good idea.

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5 thoughts on “Book Club Review: The Night Circus

  1. Pingback: Book Review: The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern | the modern austen

  2. Pingback: June Wrap Up and July Goals « I Broke my Umbrella

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