The Night Circus is Magical but Meanders

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The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

4 star

4 Stars

Erin Morgenstern’s “The Night Circus” is the enchanting tale of two young magicians, Celia and Marco, who are mortally bound to one another in a magic competition where the outcome preordains that only one of them will survive. Forced into a rivalry created by their mentors, the magicians Prospero the Enchanter and Mr. A.H_, who groom and equip their young protégés with magic abilities to use in a final confrontation, Celia and Marco find themselves inextricably in love. The enigmatic Night Circus that moves around the world from city to city and is only open to the public at night serves as the forum for this game to which the two young magicians are unwillingly a part.

Morgenstern has a gift for descriptive language that paints intricate images of the characters and scene settings. The story’s magical theme extends to the author’s writing as she slips in vague references and sleights of hand to describe the scene in unexpected ways. Her skillful use of point of view and second-person present tense makes the story all the more fanciful. Her prose is captivating. The author’s ability to migrate the story from different perspectives and places makes it all the more compelling, although it can be an exercise in patience keeping all the perspectives, characters, places, and dates straight.

The story has moments of greatness, from the formation of the circus and the untimely deaths of some of its actors to a fascinating, surprise conclusion. However, the narrative at times stagnates as Morgenstern devotes substantial space to painting scenes in such vivid detail that it detracts from the plot. One can spend pages trying to decipher which information is relevant to the story or is extraneous. It leaves the reader wondering why some details were included when they seemingly lead to dead ends. The storyline plods along so long that Morgenstern rushes to bring it to an uncharacteristically messy conclusion. The narrative’s fits, starts, stops, and pickups may leave readers with the impression that novel is not unlike a wood-fired, iron horse locomotive struggling to pull the Night Circus’ boxcars up a steep mountain pass en route to their next destination.

Morgenstern’s writing is indeed magical. For that I give “The Night Circus” four stars and recommend her novel to anyone with an interest in magic, the darker arts, or a great example of using allusion and imagery. The book won’t disappoint.

The Night Circus is now available at: