Book Review: The Night Circus

Do you know how many weeks it took me to read this book? 4. 4 whole weeks. Not because I didn’t like it, or because it’s a long book. By my standards, it’s actually a bit short. No, you can blame my lack of book reviews on my Everest-sized pile of homework. Regardless. Let me introduce you to this fantastical book by Erin Morgenstern.

As usual, if you haven’t read the book, there may be some mild spoilers ahead.

Book Title: Simplistic, but in a good way. Like with the synopsis, Morgenstern doesn’t really hide anything from us. It’s not a question of what’s this book about? Because we already know. It’s about this circus. But it’s so much more, too.

The Night Circus
Image source: Goodreads

Cover: I like the cover. They’ve got a newer one, but this is the cover on the book I read. I think it’s very beautiful. Especially the designs around the title.


“The circus arrives without warning. No announcements precede it, no paper notices plastered on lampposts and billboards. It is simply there, when yesterday it was not.

“Within these nocturnal black-and-white striped tents awaits an utterly unique, a feast for the senses, where one can get lost in a maze of clouds, meander through a lush garden made of ice, stare in wonderment as the tattooed contortionist folds herself into a small glass box, and become deliciously tipsy from the scents of caramel and cinnamon that waft through the air.

“Welcome to Le Cirque des Rêves.

“Beyond the smoke and mirrors, however, a fierce competition is under way–a contest between two young illusionists, Celia and Marco, who have been trained since childhood to compete in a “game” to which they have been irrevocably bound by their mercurial masters. Unbeknownst to the players, 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.

“As the circus travels around the world, the feats of magic gain fantastical new heights with every stop. The game is well under way and the lvies of all those involved–the eccentric circus owner, the elusive contortionist, the mystical fortune-teller, and a pair of red-headed twins born backstage among them–are swept up in a wake of spells and charms.

“But when Celia discovers that Marco is her adversary, they begin to think of the game not as a competition but as a wonderful collaboration. With no knowledge of how the game must end, they innocently tumble headfirst into love. A deep, passionate, and magical love that makes the lights flicker and the room grow warm whenever they so much as brush hands.

“Their masters still pull the strings, however, and this unforeseen occurrence forces them to intervene with dangerous consequences, leaving the lives of everyone from the performers to the patrons hanging in the balance.

“Both playful and seductive, The Night Circus, Erin Morgenstern’s spell-casting debut, is a mesmerizing love story for the ages.”

Onto the story:

I gotta tell you, if I hadn’t been recommended this book by a friend of mine, I probably never would have picked it up. I generally prefer more action-based, suspense-type books. But I do not regret picking up this book. If I regret anything, it’s that I couldn’t read it as fast as I would have liked.

The thing I love most about this book is how Morgenstern writes it. The whole story is whimsical. It’s elegant. It’s mysterious. Almost as if it’s the circus itself.

But no book would be complete without its characters, and I loved the characters. Celia and Marco, of course, but also Bailey and Poppet, and Poppet’s brother Widget. I think I liked Bailey’s, especially, because there’s nothing special about him. We admire, perhaps even envy, the magicians, but we can connect to Bailey.

I was enchanted, as well, by the description of the circus itself. Morgenstern gives her readers a gift: she doesn’t just tell us the story; every couple of chapters, she gives a second-person narrative to let you, personally, experience this circus.

The narrative is not linear, not completely. It does bounce around a bit, especially when it comes to Bailey’s chapters, but there’s always a sense of moving forward, of heading towards that wonderful finale. Morgenstern has this strange way of making things feel both fast-paced and slow, and I love it. It’s like watching a horse pulling a cart slowly towards a cliff-face, and you’re not sure how far the drop is, and you keep waiting for that moment when they fall.

Other than a few grammatical errors, perhaps the only thing I wasn’t crazy about was that one character, Celia, is a part of the circus. She travels around with them. She personally performs in her own tent. Marco, on the other hand, is hardly ever at the circus, and even when he is, it isn’t to perform. So while it’s obvious that Marco is an impressive magician, we don’t really get to see that, in terms of the competition. We aren’t told, for quite some time, what the rules of the game are, so it was a bit difficult to see how the others thought that he was doing a decent job, keeping up with Celia. Of course, we’re told the rules at the end, and it becomes clearer then, but it’s just the not-knowing for most of it that was a little confusing. But I think it’s a minor problem, in any case, because I guess it really just foreshadows how the whole thing ends.

So, yes, I thought the book was beautifully written. The characters were just as beautiful, in my opinion. The description of the circus was magnificent. I’d probably read it again. 4.5 stars.

I wish there was a sequel.


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