Monday, October 3, 2011

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern — 400 pgs

In this enchanting novel of surreal imaginings and epic proportions, a battle unlike any you have ever encountered is enacted in a venue of dreamlike splendor. When two very powerful magicians decide to play a game that pits two of their students against each other magically, the consequences are far reaching and unexpected. For Celia, the daughter of the world famous Prospero the Enchanter, the competition that she will one day be engaged in means nothing to her other then ceaseless practice and mystery. To Marco, a boy who is being trained by the mysterious man known only as Alexander, the realities of the completion mean one day testing his skill against one whose abilities could possibly surpass his own. When the two elder magicians decide to create a magical circus as a venue to house this strange and volatile competition, the circus develops a life of its own. And the life of this particular circus is one of strange magical wonder and enchantments so unusual that it defies the understanding of even those who are charged to keep its secrets. As Celia and Marco use their venue for more and more abstract displays of their magic, a life and society begins to bubble up. The circus has a way of enchanting and ensnaring even the most casual observers, pushing the limits of comprehension and belief into the realm of imagination and dream. But when unexpected events threaten to not only end the competition but tear the beloved circus apart, Celia and Marco must take drastic steps to protect what they’ve built, and strangely enough, to protect each other, though the rules of the competition forbid this. With utter beauty and dreamlike interpretation, Erin Morgenstern gives us the brilliance and beauty of The Night Circus, and shares a space where imagination and power flow freely into the darkness, creating a brilliant and beautiful light.

I don’t think that anything I can say will do justice to this incredible book. At once wise and strange, the story was like nothing I’ve ever read before, full of bewitchment and wonder, but also very heavily steeped in character creation of the best kind. The book was a melange of lots of different elements, from the very unusual and fierce aspects of the competition to the more emotional sides that dealt with loyalty, compassion and love. What I enjoyed most was the Morgenstern’s ability to conjure up the kinds of astonishing imagery that appeared behind each black and white tent flap in her beguiling circus of magic.

There was just so much going on in this tale, from the use of potent and involving storytelling to the intense color and object symbolism, to the impressive themes and ideas that lie quietly underneath it all. But the good news is that it can be read on several different levels, and a first cursory read will probably be just as satisfying as a re-read in the aims of picking it all apart and discovering the clues and cues that Morgenstern so cleverly sprinkles throughout. Each small aspect of this tale was interconnected beautifully with all of its larger parts, which gave the story a great feeling of cohesiveness and life. Because of it’s fairy tale like feel and scope, certain aspects felt wonderfully alive and orchestrated, while other smaller bits felt like they just fell into the perfect place organically. It was a clever mix of storytelling and visual description that seemed to defy any preconceived ideas that I had placed upon it, and it was also a story that keep me trapped within its pages until its final and very unexpected conclusion.

A lot of this tale was just dripping with magic and alchemy, and as such, it reminded me a little of a mix between the Harry Potter books and the story in Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norell. It wasn’t what I would call magical realism, as this world was almost completely overrun by magic and sorcery, so I would have to say it was more like a magical fable that openly portrayed characters that had one foot planted in the magical world, and one foot out. Some of the ways this magic was manifested was in the various exhibits at the circus, and let me tell you, a lot of these exhibits were wonderful, colorful, and strange. Glass bottles that captured pungent sensations and scenes through smell, labyrinths made of clouds that one could get lost in, and exotic ice gardens that were precise down to their smallest elements, Morgenstern captures them all with a heady mix of the dreamlike and surreal to share with her readers and characters alike, morphing the circus around and around the magicians who seek to outdo each other.

Though their prime focus began as outdoing one another, soon a strange fascination between the two springs up, which puts the competition and its irreversible results in jeopardy, for this is a competition that one of the magicians won’t walk away from. Though it seems that it’s all one big game of skill and exhibition, the realities are far grimmer and will lead to a heartbreaking choice that will forever change the circus and those who have grown to love it. There’s a stark inevitability here, and it shapes and forms all the people who have come build and love this particular circus, especially those who are using it to play their very dangerous and calculating game. Through the mesmerizing permutations of the tale, the fate of the magical circus is amplified across the hearts of its performers and creators, and it will take one stunning act of love and loyalty to undo the cataclysmic magic that both holds it together, and tears it apart.

This was a story told not only with fluidity and grace, but with an unerring sense of allurement and a perfectly crafted set of characters and narrative. It was not only a pleasure to read, but a pleasure to ponder over in many ways. While eagerly flipping through the pages, I came to feel a sense of excitement and wonder, almost as if I was seeing this strange and magical circus with my very own eyes. It’s rare to come across a book about enchantments that literally enchants the reader while they’re exploring it, but this is the feat that The Night Circus manages so brilliantly. A page turning feast for the senses, and very highly recommended.


This book was provided as a complimentary review copy.

29 comments:

Mrs Q Book Addict said...

I skimmed over your review of this one, because there is so much hype and I plan to read it in a few weeks. I'm trying not to expect much. Glad to read that you enjoyed it.

bermudaonion said...

I'm not much of a fantasy reader, but everyone loves this book so much, I feel I must give it a try.

Jenny said...

Awesome I'm glad you loved this! I'm really excited to read it... I'm just waiting on Jason to finish it!

Kathy said...

I am reading this right now and really enjoying it. I despair of writing a review half as enchanting as yours - you have captured the essence of this very different novel.

rhapsodyinbooks said...

Everyone is so gushing about this, but I can't get past the combination of magic and circus. But I enjoyed reading your thorough review, as always!

TheBookGirl said...

I just started this book yesterday, and haven't been able to put it down. I'm about halfway through, and loving it. I will come back and read your review through after I'm done, though I did see that you loved it too :)

I really didn't think that a book could live up to all the hype this one has gotten, but so far, so good!

Nymeth said...

This one has been getting so much praise I'm almost afraid to pick it up and be disappointed. But it sounds right up my alley, and your review is so great. The library has copies in order and I've joined the queue. Fingers crossed that I love it as much as you did!

Kaye said...

Wonderfully comprehensive review as always, Heather. This book seems to be everywhere I look recently. Glad you enjoyed it. Have a great week and enjoy another day of fall like (for FL anyway) temps.

(Diane) Bibliophile By the Sea said...

You made me want to read my copy all over again...LOL Yet, again, a wonderful review - (We're you a Lit major Heather? - You write so well!

Wendy said...

I just last week caved in and bought this one - I could not resist any longer since EVERYONE seems to love it. So glad you are with the majority on this one...I can't wait to read it :)

Aths said...

I can't wait to read this book! I have it with me here and hopefully will get to it soon! Loved your review, and I'm so glad that you liked it, because I was worried whether it will work for me, being fantasy and all. But I think I will enjoy it now!

Amy said...

Everyone seems to have really enjoyed this book! I hope I find some time to read it.

Sandy Nawrot said...

And yet the copy you loaned me sits there taunting me. I really wish I would have read it the second you gave it to me, because now I've read probably three dozen reviews and I'm wondering 1)how can I ever write a review to compare and 2)will it live up to the hype. I may have to pass this to the other Heather and read it once things simmer down. Excellent review! It really does sound amazing.

Natalie~Coffee and a Book Chick said...

Man oh man, if this review hasn't motivated me to run to the store and pick up right away, I don't know what will! What an incredible review and I think I'm going to have to head on down to the store to use some birthday gift card cash! :) I was thisclose to getting the book a few weeks ago, I should have bought it then.

Alison's Book Marks said...

I loved, loved, loved this book, and you gave a wonderful review! I have to say, I feel like I was at an advantage knowing NOTHING going in.

Vasilly said...

Great review, H! I'm so scared to read this book because so many bloggers love it! What if I don't? I'm going to push through my worries and read it anyway.

Trisha said...

What a great review! If I hadn't already caved and bought it, you definitely would have pushed me over the edge.

Jenners said...

Every review I've read of this has been gushing!! I guess I must give in and read it. Why be contrary and deny myself what seems to be the best book of the year so far?

Suko said...

Zibilee, I am so glad that you enjoyed this book because it's one I'd really like to read before too long. Excellent review!

Jenny said...

I'm like Ana -- all the hype made me nervous of picking this book up -- but I started reading it the other day, and was pleasantly surprised with it. It's a little slow-moving so far, but Morgenstern is great at creating her atmosphere and setting so vividly you can almost see it.

Michelle (my books. my life.) said...

What a beautiful review for a beautiful book.

Pam (@iwriteinbooks) said...

Oh, Heather what a great review! I'm just getting to this one. I'm enjoying it so far and I'm glad you love it so!

Nana Fredua-Agyeman said...

And even before you mentioned it, as I read your review, I had Harry Potter in mind. It was this particular line that brought it to mind 'two very powerful magicians decide to play a game that pits two of their students against each other'. Here I remembered the duel between Draco Malfoy and Harry Potter after Snape had outdone that fake Dark Arts teacher who couldn't heal broken bones.

Darlene said...

I am so glad to see you liked this one. I have it on my shelf to read and I've heard so many good things about it that I'm kind of a bit anxious to make some time for it.

Anna said...

I'm about halfway through this book and I'm loving it. Great review!

nomadreader said...

I'm about half way through this one, and I fear it has plateaued a bit for me. I hope I end up enjoying it as much you did!

Kailana said...

I loved this book! I am so glad I had the chance to read it.

Ti said...

You did a fantastic job of reviewing this one. I'm not even sure where to start! I loved what it did to me while I read it. It was as if I stepped into one of those tents and just became a part of that circus. Sigh.

Erin said...

A beautiful review, as always! I haven't read this one yet, but I have a copy and I look forward to it. I worry when books get so much hype that they can't possibly live up to my expectations, but I think this one just might be the exception :-)

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