The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern
Published 2011 by Doubleday.

Links: Goodreads.

Source: borrowed from the library.

Genre: historical (urban?) fantasy.

My rating:

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.

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It’s been a month or so since I finished this book and I even thought about not reviewing it here because I’ve been in a bit of a reviewing slump but it’s a rather good book and I found I still had things to say about it after all this time, which is always a good thing.

I’m not a fan of circuses. I haven’t been to one in ages but the thought of animals being kept in tiny wagons/trailers and people twisting into complicated shapes never really appealed to me. But I’d be totally on board with visiting Le Cirque des Rêves! The atmosphere is so haunting and mysterious and the tents produced by Celia and Marco so innovative that I would definitely find something to entertain me.

But I started this review at the wrong end. I have to tell you all about Celia, the girl whose father saw her only as a pawn in his ridiculous grand scheme. And about Marco, the orphan boy whom his mentor picked up from the orphanage because he had an aptitude for magic, gave him everything he needed – except for love. Pitched against each other in a contest they know too little about, they create amazing magic and slowly fall in love (and no, it’s not a spoiler if it’s also in the blurb… I think). Anyway, their falling in love is more like a beginning of the story than the end of it, which is always a good thing in my book.

I had some problems with The Night Circus, though, which resulted in a slightly lower rating:

  • I wish I’d read it in the original. I did not, however, because only the Slovenian translation was available through my library. And I wanted to see what the translation was like! It was OK but I still wish I’d read the English version – I just prefer reading originals whenever I can. But I didn’t lower the rating because of this, promise.
  • Celia and Marco… as much as I felt for the two lonely children who didn’t know what they were being groomed for, I wasn’t absolutely convinced by them as adults. I know they were trapped and everything but I really did wish they’d do something to escape their mentors instead of throwing decades away to a cause that wasn’t even theirs.
  • The lenght. This is a standalone novel but I still felt it was about 100 pages too long. I like concise fiction, so that might be just a personal preference but I felt that the story dragged a bit, what with all the switching back and forth in time – which brings me to:
  • The switching back and forth in time. I don’t mind disjointed timelines. I really like them if they’re done well, in fact. But here the timelines didn’t seem distinct enough – I had to keep checking the dates to know where I was and what was happening.

But I enjoyed The Night Circus enough to be able to recommend it to you. I liked the atmosphere of the circus, the unique magic that Celia and Marco created, the mystery behind the cast of characters (the circus performers, especially). If you’re looking for a solid standalone fantasy novel, this is a good choice. 

And if you’ve read it already and you’re looking for more standalones, give these a try: StardustUprootedThe Accident SeasonVicious. I’m currently reading The Weight of Feathers which is also about performing artists, so I’m curious to see how it will compare to The Night Circus!

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Have you read The Night Circus? Did you like it?

Have you ever been to a circus? What was it like? 

I’d love to hear from you! :)

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  • I’m actually a little surprised because I would have thought you’d love this one. Confession though, I didn’t like it as much as most of my friends did either. I felt like the odd one out! I just couldn’t get into the main characters because I thought they were somewhat bland, and felt nothing for their romantic interplay. But I do love circuses! Though like you, I’m not so much for visiting them, it’s more like I love reading about them :)

    ~Mogsy

    • Yeah, I saw it had a crazy good Goodreads rating and everyone kept including it on their favourites’ lists, so I thought I’d give it a try. It was OK, but not fantastic.
      And yes – the entire time I was reading about Celia and Marco I thought something like “OK, that’s fine. You do your thing,” but didn’t really care one way or another.
      I don’t think I’ve read many circus-related books. I read one recently, The Weight of Feathers, it’s really cool but also not really fantasy, more magical realism…

  • Jolien @ The Fictional Reader

    I listened to the audiobook of The Night Circus and I so agree on the timeline! I was often really confused… While I really liked the book and the concept, I’m not really sold on Celia and Marco. I do like them, but I couldn’t really connect to anything. I loved the twins better -even though I have forgotten their names.

    Great review!

    • Thanks, Jolien! :)

      Umm yeah, the twins’ names escape me, too. But yes, I know what you mean. I should have LOVED this book and I was fully prepared to do so but it just … fell short of my expecations. Oh, well.

  • Maraia

    It’s actually a bit of a relief to hear I’m not the only one who enjoyed this book but didn’t love it. The setting was amazing and magical, but I agree that it was hard to follow along between the time jumps. It was even harder when I listened to the audiobook (which I still loved, because it’s narrated by Jim Dale). I read The Night Circus on the high recommendation of a friend, so I was expecting to be blown away, and I wasn’t. Like you, though, I would still recommend reading it.

    I’m also not a fan of circuses, mostly because I detest clowns. I know a lot of people say that, but a clown tried to run me and a friend over at a fair when I was younger. It was terrifying. I can’t remember actually going to a real circus, though.

    • Ugh, I’d detest clowns too if I were you. Actually, I still detest them… But not as violently. I did watch that It movie (based on Stephen King’s novel, I think?) and it was awful. Why anyone would want to dress up as a clown is beyond me. They’re NEVER funny. Not ever.

      I KNOOOOW, I really wanted to love this book. I was prepared to do so. But I didn’t. I don’t like it when this happens, but I can’t avoid it every time!

      • Maraia

        I don’t know which movie you’re talking about, but I’m not even going to look it up, haha.

        I just saw on Goodreads that she’s finally writing a new book. Fingers crossed that it’s just as magical but a better book!

  • Why is everyone reviewing and talking about this book and making me jealous about the fact that I haven’t read it yet?! I love circuses–not so much the cooped up animals or clowns but the acrobatic and aerial acts–so I love reading about them. Circus books are hard to come by though. Girl on a Wire is a good one, also with some magic thrown in. Anyway, I’m just gonna have to spend my money and get this book already.

    • Haha, I’m probably years behind with reading and reviewing The Night Circus. I picked it up because it has a great rating and it’s a standalone which is always a good thing.

      I just read The Weight of Feathers, which is a magical realism YA book and also a Romeo and Juliet retelling. I liked it quite a lot and it features two competing families – one does some sort of tree-climbing acrobatic thing and the other a mermaid act (synchronised swimming). It’s a bit weird but you might want to check it out if it sounds interesting. :)

      • I’m adding it to my possible TBR since it does sound like something I might like :-)

  • I’ve had a copy of this one on my shelf for AGES but I haven’t gotten to it yet. I’m a little scared of it because a part of me thinks I’ll either love it, or have issues like you did. People seem to either adore this or be sort of ‘meh’ about it. If anything, reading your review here and seeing what you did love about it makes me more curious to compare notes with you :) I really need to finally read this^^ Excellent review Kaja ♥

    • Thanks, Micheline! :) I only ever saw really good reviews so I decided to give it a try. I’m not disappointed but I didn’t *love* it, either. Some books are just like that! :)

  • Glad you enjoyed this one, I actually had such a hard time engaging with the book when I read it a couple of years back, I need to attempt to read it again at some point because most of the reviews I’ve come across are so positive haha. I couldn’t really connect with the main characters and got a bit bored the first time around.

    • I don’t think you’ll change your mind that much if you didn’t enjoy it the first time. Being unable to connect with Celia and Marco was one of my biggest problems – I felt like I should love the book because it has such a great concept, but it didn’t absolutely wow me. Some books are just like that!

  • It has been a couple of years since I read this book and I can only vaguely remember what happens, but I liked it. I think it was the romance that I liked, the fact the couple were meant to be enemies and were competing and instead it became like a grand seduction with the magic they performed for each other. I wish I could remember more of this book, but I’m always put off rereading by the length.

    And I have been to a circus, but I can’t remember anything from the day. My nan took me (just me, a feat in itself because my brother and I normally had to go together for these kinds of things) and I must have been about 8, I have no remembrance of the circus itself, but I do remember I got a twirly baton at the end. I loved that thing because it had glitter and sparkly streamers and I could hit my brother with it and then run away. What more could you want in a child’s toy? I’m with you, though, the idea of animals in cages does not appeal now, but as a child it was so cool.

  • I liked this book a lot the first time I read it – loved it the second time. Since I read so much YA, I felt that the story was kind of distant emotionally. Because YA is so, you know, in the thick of it all even if it’s not first person. But I connected with the characters enough that when I reread it, I enjoyed it much more.

    It’s such a beautifully atmospheric book that I pretty much forget about the whole contest thing because even though it’s in the blurb, it feels like such a small part of the actual story.

  • Anya E. J.

    I’ve been meaning to read this one for FOREVER! I got it when it first came out and read the first couple of pages in store and… haven’t gotten back to it since. I even started the audiobook from the library but my phone lost my place when I paused it and I haven’t had the patience to go back yet! I loved the narration though so I will go back eventually haha.