Erin Morgenstern's debut novel "The Night Circus" is about just that: a circus that shows up unannounced and is open for business between dusk and dawn. There is also a side story about a competition between two magicians: Celia, the Night Circus's Illusionist (who in reality possesses the ability to manipulate tangible objects while making her performances appear merely magical) and Marco whose talents lie not only in his capacity to create illusions within a person's mind that seem genuine and authentic, but also in his role as the circus's offsite caretaker, (which apparently requires lots of handwritten journals full of spells, charms, hieroglyphs, symbols and the like). This magician's duel was arranged by Celia's father, Hector "Prospero the Enchanter" Bowen, and Marco's teacher, the mysterious A. H. ---* long before either student fully understands their extraordinary talents. The Night Circus, or Le Cirque des Rêves, is then created as an elaborate arena for the two to play their game, but without either knowing their opponent, or the premise of the competition, nor its stakes. But wait, that is simply a side story you say? Isn't the contest the entire premise of the book? That is after all, what was promised on the book jacket...
Yes, and no. Sure, the game between Celia and Marco comprises the majority of the plot and involves many of the novel's main characters, but to me it was just, well, meh. It lacked suspense (non spoiler alert: Celia and Marco fall in love! They figure out what will happen when one of them is declared the victor! Sappiness and predictable reactions ensue!), and I never felt fully invested in either character: I couldn't care less who won or lost, or what would happen to them once the game reached its (anti-climatic) conclusion. For being the novel's main protagonists, Celia and Marco were far too underdeveloped, unimaginative, and uninteresting. Yawn.
What I loved about "The Night Circus" was the imagery and atmosphere that Morgenstern effortlessly constructed. Her vivid descriptions of the various circus tents and performers were entrancing and seductive. Also I thoroughly enjoyed the novel's supporting cast, in particular the German clock maker Herr Thiessen, and Poppet and Widget, the red-headed twins who were born on the circus's opening night and are able to view a person's past and see into the future, respectively.
"The Night Circus" is written in a nonlinear format, jumping between times, places, and character perspectives. Personally, I enjoy books that are constructed in this manner, but I am fully aware that it can be rather annoying or confusing to some readers. Also, in the case of "The Night Circus", rather than adding to the overall drama and suspense, the writing format instead impeded the pace of the plot tremendously. I can certainly understand why some readers would become frustrated with the book's lack of action and quit reading 100 pages in. For me, the setting and language kept me interested enough until the pace finally picks up just after the halfway part. It took me over two weeks to read the first half, and only a few hours to finish the rest.
Overall, I felt that "The Night Circus" was seriously lacking in its depth of characters and the premise of the plot, however I was completely drawn in by the fantastical environment Morgenstern created.
* A. H.--- is truly how his name appears throughout the book, ugh. Honestly, what is with the "---"? Is it bec ause the characters are never privy to his real last name? Or,does A. H --- somehow place an enchantment on everyone to simply forget? Perhaps it was covered somewhere, but I can't seem to recall...
(Sidenote: I read this book for my upcoming "Resources for Young Adults" class. I think the professor's intention in including this on a YA reading list is to explore crossover titles, because it didn't scream YA, but neither did it seem strictly "adult". Perhaps New Adult, a term that I've only recently been made aware?).