The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

The Night Circus

The circus arrives without warning.

No announcements precede it, no paper notices on downtown posts and billboards, no mentions or advertisements in local newspapers. It is simply there, when yesterday it was not.

The towering tents are striped in white and black, no golds and crimsons to be seen. No color at all, save for the neighboring trees and the grass of the surrounding fields. Black-and-white stripes on grey sky; countless tents of varying shapes and sizes, with an elaborate wrought-iron fence encasing them in a colorless world. Even what little ground is visible from outside is black or white, painted or powdered, or treated with some other circus trick.

But it is not open for business. Not just yet.

Celia is only a child when her father binds her into the magical contest that will come to dominate her life. At the time, her competitor hasn’t even been selected. Nevertheless, her father pushes her endlessly: to study, to practice, to perfect. The beginning is different for Marco, plucked from an orphanage by an elusive magician, but the result is the same. The rules are never explained, but one thing is made clear: there is no option to quit.

The public setting for this private contest is a circus, ostensibly the brainchild of Chandresh Christophe Lefèvre, a theatre producer and investor with a flair for the dramatic. Lefèvre’s midnight suppers are the stuff of legend, with the first course served as the clock strikes twelve, and it’s at one of these events that the backstage crew of the circus first gather. Le Cirque des Rêves, however, is infused by magic that goes beyond the smoke and mirrors of a stage magician’s tricks and Marco, as Lefèvre’s assistant, is in a strong position to shape its beginnings. The circus quickly makes a name for itself: it appears unannounced and without warning, opens only after dark, and contains wonderous exhibits that stretch the boundaries of belief.

As time passes Celia and Marco continue to add their own touches to the circus in the form of various new tents and attractions. I’m not usually a fan of ‘fate’ in love stories, but the growth of feelings between these two felt inevitable in a way that was all too human. Both are raised from childhood with the knowledge that this contest is to define them, and from the beginning of the circus they’re immersed in one another’s creations. Their tents become a kind of dialogue that allows them to communicate in pure emotion. There’s simply no way that two people can experience so much of one another without developing sympathy and affection; combined with everything they have in common, it’s no surprise that they develop a mutual obsession.

When I set out to review a season of romantic fantasy novels, I knew it would give me a good excuse to reread The Night Circus. This isn’t a romance in the classical sense, but without the love story at its heart, the growing tension of the competition would be much less harrowing. I loved this book so much the first time I read it, and I wasn’t at all disappointed when I revisited it, even though I knew all the major plot twists and character developments in advance. The writing is simply exquisite; the circus itself is particularly vivid, of course, but the supporting characters and surrounding scenes are also thoroughly enchanting. I particularly adore the young twins, born at the time of the circus’ first opening, and duly entwined with its magic and its fate.

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