Fiction Review: The Night Circus

BY ERIN MORGANSTERN
Publisher: Anchor
Reviewed by Cheyenne Kam

1-ba07b7651dYou are invited to a circus that only opens after dark, and closes at dawn. A circus that appears without warning, overnight, whose black-and-white tents hide feats of magic and mechanical engineering, with moving statues, masked performers, mystery and danger. You might think you’re just a member of the public but once you step inside, you’re part of the show.

Le Cirque des Rêves— the Circus of Dreams—is more than a mysterious, beautiful piece of showmanship: it’s the creation and testing ground of two young magicians, raised to face each other in a magic showdown since they were children. Their combat is almost as much a mystery to them as it is to the reader, because their mentors are keeping secrets about the goals and outcome of the challenge. Meanwhile, the performers at the circus—the contortionist, the fortune teller, the impresario and his friends who designed the circus, the engineer who made the clock that stands at the entrance, and especially the twins who were born the night the circus opened—are drawn in to the ongoing challenge.

I almost don’t want to tell you anything more about this novel, I love it so much. You should get to read it with the same delighted surprise that I did. Most of the story is set in the years 1880 to 1902, concentrating on the two magicians, Celia and Marco. Other sections follow Bailey, a young boy who has been enamored of the circus his whole life. While magic is at the core of the story, there are steampunk elements in the circus’s mechanical illusions, Victorian setting, and the awareness of the eve of the Twentieth Century. Anything seems possible; not knowing where the magic ends and technology begins is part of the fun.

The characters are likable, but flawed: all of them make mistakes that they have to try to fix (with varying degrees of success). But it’s the descriptions of the circus that push this novel into the realm of the fantastic. You’ll want to visit it. Or you’ll believe you did, in your dreams.

For a first novel, this is an incredible debut from Morganstern. I plan on following her career for the foreseeable future.

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