The Night Circus, by Erin Morgenstern, is a young adult fantasy novel set in ahistorical Victorian London and revolves around the tale of a phantasmagorical circus called La Cirque de Rêves (‘The Circus of Dreams’). Unbeknownst to the circus’ visitors, the circus is powered and is the product of two magicians, Celia and Marco. The story begins with two rivalling magicians, Prospero the Enchanter and Mr. A.H., who have decided to put their rivalry to an end by pitting their children, Celia and Marco (in his case, adopted son) respectively, against each other to see who has the better education and upbringing.
The premise promised its readers ‘a breath taking feat of imagination, a flight of fancy that pulls you in and wraps you up in a spell’, which I sincerely believe Morgenstern has succeeded in. Her prose, which I personally describe as lyrical and poetic, but just enough so that it does not cross over to purple prose, really does draw you in. Morgenstern paints a lush imagery of a mysterious yet enchanting circus, full of surprises with every twist and turn within the story, in her reader’s head.
However, this is also where she fell short. What Morgenstern does well in prose, she lacks in plot. A good 80% of the book was dedicated to describing the many charms of the circus, luxurious dinner parties, tea time, visual acts of magic, spirits and ghosts, and people’s emotions (which, I admit, is not an easy feat to accomplish). And while I did enjoy these images dance in my head, it does not bode well when I started to get restless halfway through the book due to its repetitiveness.
She also failed, in my opinion, to bring forth the most out of her main cast, especially her two leads, Celia and Marco. At the start, both showed strong emotions—be it anger, fear of disappointing them, hatred, and occasionally loving—towards their respective parent and a semblance of personality in relation to their current situations as well as the people they meet and eventually come to know. But towards the end, their characterization completely falls flat. A ‘romance’ develops between Celia and Marco—or ‘instalove’, as modern reviewers call it—through fascination of each other’s magical creations (which, again, I admit, sound incredibly fun, but is also a problem on its own: Morgenstern never establishes any magical boundaries, and it was stated in the novel that the visitors are supposed to think that all the attractions are manmade, not magic) instead of letting it develop naturally as normal couples do. And so for the sake of romance, all other aspects of the novel were either dropped or shoved in for the sake of drama or word padding.
The Night Circus had a beautiful and promising premise but fell halfway with its execution. I thought this was a beautiful book filled with beautiful prose and imagery. The tone, setting, and mood are all well done. But without a proper plot and decent character development, readers will be left yawning halfway through the story.
If you’ve made it this far into my post, thank you for reading! Have you read The Night Circus? If so, what did you think? If not, would you want to? Let me know in the comments and I’ll see you in my next post!
Until next time,