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Wednesday, May 2, 2012

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

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.

The German cover, not because I speak German (the only
German I know is swearing, thanks to The Book
Thief), but because it's much cooler.
First Look: *****  I kept putting off this review because I was having a hard time figuring out what I thought about it.  I picked it up because the premise looked interesting, and I'd heard nothing but good about it. 
Setting: *****
I liked the Victorian London aspect of the setting.  It was well-described, and thoroughly thought-out, without too much detail.

But the real masterpiece of the setting was the circus itself.  It was simply gorgeous.  I felt like I was there.  I greedily soaked in every single detail.  All the magic, all the enchantment, all the wonder--it all felt so amazingly real.  I walked through it with the characters, feeling just as awed and enchanted as they felt.  I loved each and every part of the circus, and how it was described.  I don't know if I've ever wanted to visit a fictional place as much as this.  I want to go to this circus really, really badly. 

Characters: ***** Overall, I liked the characters.  Marco and Celia made for good leads.  They were likable, and interesting.  Some of the side characters, though, had even more interesting stories, like Isobel, Poppet and Widget, and especially Bailey.  Bailey was my favorite--I could connect to his enthusiasm for the circus.

I did have a bit of trouble at the beginning, telling names apart.  A few times I forgot who was who for a few minutes.  I'm accustomed to reading lots of high fantasy, so I'm used to excessive name-dropping and usually have no trouble keeping them straight, but...  There were a lot of POVs.  I think I counted 15 different POVs.  That's FIFTEEN, ladies and gentlemen.  16, if you count "you", because there are a few parts in second person, so you, yes, YOU, get to experience the story.

There is reason for having all these POV characters, though.  If you read it, it'll make sense.   

Plot: *****  I'm not even sure where to start on the plot.  At first, I was bored.  The chapters jumped all over in different POVs and different years.  For example, one chapter would be from Isobel's POV, in 1895.  Then it would jump to Marco's POV, in 1901, then back to 1895, and all over the place.  And yes, it was confusing.  At first it didn't make sense. None of it seemed connected.

But then I read the ending.  Suddenly, it all made sense.  I could see where the plotlines had been strung together, and how they all were intertwined with one another.  It sort of reminds me of one of those optical illusions at first glance, it looks like just a random blur.  But the more you stare at it, the more it forms itself into a beautiful picture.  It's very difficult to understand this book until you've read the ending.  But believe me, it's definitely worth it.

It's a book that you almost have to read twice.  The first time, you read it through, not really seeing how anything is connected, until the very end, when you marvel at the brilliance of it all.  Then you read it again, and have the perspective to see all the nuances, all the parts where it all fits together.   

Uniqueness: *****
Perfectly, wonderfully unique.

Writing: ***** The thing I heard praised the most about this book was the writing.  Thankfully, it lived up to the hype (mostly).  The prose was rich and detailed and gorgeous.  It took its time, but not in a boring way.  It spent time on the awesome, cool little details that really made this book sparkle. 

But...the author's use of run-ons got on my nerves.  Sentences like this, for example: "She didn't like him, he was arrogant and stubborn." (No, that's not from the book.  It's from my brain, since I don't have the book with me anymore.)  The sentence would be so much better like this: "She didn't like him: he was arrogant and stubborn."  Or "She didn't like him.  He was arrogant and stubborn." 

Likes: The complexity.

Not-so-great: Why did there have to be a love triangle?  It wasn't the typical I-can't-decide-who-I-love triangle, but instead a triangle where both girls loved the same guy.  Still a triangle.

The pitch on the inside cover flap was misleading.  I was expecting some sort of epic one-on-one wizardish duel, but that never happened.

Overall: This book is a gorgeous, complex mass of sparkling settings and poetic storylines.  Much of the plot doesn't seem to fit together until the very end, when you realize that all along the author was working some kind of magic you weren't even aware of.  Amazing.  The only reason it doesn't get five stars is because I was a little confused and a tiny bit bored for much of the book.  It's one of those books that doesn't quite find its full potential until the very end (which is most definitely worth it).  I heartily recommend it anyway, because once you finish it, you'll look back and say ""   And besides, the circus itself is such a magical and utterly enchanting thing simply in words alone that you'll be aching for it to be real so you could visit it. 

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