Wednesday, September 5, 2012
Pages: 387 (paperback)
Published: September 2011 by Doubleday
Synopsis (from Goodreads): 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.
The Night Circus is like a mesmerizing performance written in short acts, chapters from different character perspectives and timelines which wind together to form a beautiful and intricate story. The book itself has the feel of a very enchanting circus: along with the main show involving Celia and Marco, two young enchanters trained in two different schools of magic and made by their respective teachers to participate in a game to prove which is stronger, the reader is afforded brief glimpses into other circus tents. The subplots in this book are truly intriguing as well as relevant, and I'm discovering that some of the less-developed stories, like those belonging to the various circus performers and visitors, are the ones which linger most potently in my mind. I was captivated by the circus's mysterious contortionist, Tsukiko; by the tarot reader who helps to hold the fate of the circus in balance with a single card; by the German clockmaker who falls in love with the circus and becomes the first of its most ardent admirers, a reveur; and by the Murray twins, born on the circus's opening night and forever bound up in its web of magic and secrets.
This was a novel right up my alley in many ways: the Victorian elements paired with the subtle romance, a cast of characters with ambiguous motives and hidden depths, and of course, the magic. It's so rare that a reader can become completely immersed in a fictional setting, but this is one of those unique books which helps us accomplish it. Reading this spectacular novel, I can imagine with perfectly clarity what it would be like to walk down the chilly, winding roads of the Night Circus wrapped in a Victorian overcoat and a woolen red scarf, passing by black and white-striped tents and breathing in the scents of bonfires and caramel popcorn. There are so few books with settings as lucid and characters as fully-realized as that of The Night Circus that I would be hard-pressed to come up with more than a couple more-- Hogwarts in the Harry Potter series as that kind of this-could-be-a-real-place feel, and maybe Narnia. To successfully endow a book with that quality of perfect seamless immersive-ness is a kind of literary magic, the ultimate achievement in any genre, but particularly in fantasy. I really wish there were more books in the world as beautifully-written and complex, yet sweet and simply intriguing, as this one.