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 in an utterly unique experience full of breathtaking amazements. It is called Le Cirque des Reves, 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 both, this is a game in which only one can be left standing. Amidst the high stakes, Celia and Marco soon tumble headfirst into love, setting off a domino effect of dangerous consequences, and leaving the lives of everyone from the performers to the patrons hanging in the balance.
So I finally read The Night Circus. This has been a long time coming. I’ve have the book for years, but just never got to it. Until now, of course. Let me preface this review by saying one thing: The Night Circus really is a great book. On paper, I really should have loved it. I wanted to love it. But, alas, I may have just become the only person I know who genuinely did not really like this book. Here’s why:
The plot was the real star of this novel. Not the characters, certainly not Celia and Marco. It was the story itself and, as the title suggests, the circus, and everything surrounding it. The plotting was genius, and it was one of the reasons I couldn’t rightfully give this book anything below three stars. That said, there were some places where I wanted more. There are things that are unnecessary, places where I simply wanted more but did need more. And then there is Bailey’s story. The book needed more of Bailey, especially after he took control of the circus. His story is the only part that, towards the end, felted rushed, brushed over, and wholly incomplete. Other than that, though, Morgenstern provides readers with an example of perfect plotting.
The blurb to this book is misleading. It is not, as the blurb suggested, about two young lovers by the names of Celia and Marco. Rather, it is an ensemble piece. And I love that. I love ensemble pieces because I am a character person. For me, a book, movie, TV show, whathaveyou, can live or die on its characters alone. And, for me, this is where the book came to die.
The characters were flat. And I am not sure this is because they actually were written flat or because I lacked the ability to connect with any of them. The characterization, or lack thereof, felt very much like a Wes Anderson movie. That is, the characters weren’t characters so much as they were caricatures, dramatic place holders for the plot. That is not in itself a bad thing, but it is not something that I personally enjoy. I like to understand people, and the only characters I really came to understand were Bailey, Poppet, and Widget. In my humble opinion, these three were the real stars of the book. And I didn’t even really like Bailey.
Finally, because I have no seen a single review point this out, this book was cis, straight, and white. This is such a visual novel that nearly every single character was explicitly described to be white, which makes absolutely no sense and actually made me pretty angry. Two characters were explicitly nonwhite, and one character became the token queer towards the very end of the novel. And, of course, her solitary queer story ended with tragedy. Because no one can imagine a world where queer people get to be happy. Kill your gays and make them sad. Revolutionary. Inspiring. That was sarcasm. I absolutely hated that aspect of the novel.
The writing itself was great. There were moments where it was cheesy, and the sex scene was absolutely atrocious, but for the most part the writing was great. It made me actually want to read the novel, even though there were so many places where, due the characterization (or lack thereof) I was genuinely angry. Morgenstern has a rare touch with her writing, accomplishing something that is rare to see: the writing itself reflected the story. By that I mean it was written as though it should be narrated in a posh English accent. It was annoying at first, but as I sank into the story I found it was actually quite lovely.
I just didn’t like it. It was exhausting to read. But, I do have to admit, it is a really good book. I love fantasy, I love historical settings, so I really should have loved this book. But the characters, for me, were so lacking that I just couldn’t like it near as much as I wanted to.