The circus arrives without warning. No announcements precede it, no paper notices on downtown posts and billboards, no mentions or advertisements in local newspapers. It is simply there, when yesterday it was not.
On a fateful night in London, 1873, two magicians propose another round of their 'Challenge', each producing a student to compete on their behalf. One, billing himself as Prospero the Enchanter, places his bets on honing his daughter Celia’s natural talent, while the other, only known as Mr A. H–, picks a promising orphan and dubs him Marco, luring him with the chance of a better life. It is from there that Celia and Marco are put under years of rigorous training, preparing them for the day they will unknowingly face each other in a lawless battle of mind games and skills . . . all within a travelling black-and-white circus, only open from dusk to dawn.
The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern is a fantasy novel that envelops the reader into the magic and intrigue of the book’s universe. Propelled by the high stakes and the struggles the main leads go through because of the Challenge, Celia and Marco’s journey is thrilling to follow and is only bolstered by the strength of their bond, the wisps of which the reader can feel even before their first meeting. Celia and Marco are further accompanied by a colourful ensemble cast, most of whom contribute as much as the leads in making The Circus of Dreams seem as wondrous as it is. But where Morgenstern truly shines is in her construction of the circus – from a garden of ice to a tree that grants many wishes, the establishment is an elaborate piece of art that enchants readers as much as it does the in-universe rêveurs.
However, for those expecting to jump immediately into the magic of the circus, it should be known that the book is not a fast read. Like her descriptions, Morgenstern painstakingly paces the book to allow her readers to take in every detail, which may leave those looking for a dynamic, action-orientated tale waiting for Celia and Marco’s story to begin. The heart of the story lies in the setup of not only the circus but the world it inhabits, and, while it may take the scenic route, it provides a massive pay-off for those who reach the end and can relive the experience again.
Overall, I rate this book a 4.5 out of 5 stars, with a recommendation to read it more than once, as it only gets better each time.