Imagine if Tim Burton made a movie that involved a mysterious circus, a love story, and an elaborate game of magical strategy. That will probably determine if The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern will interest you or not. I was reminded a lot of Tim Burton’s Big Fish while I was reading. To put it very simply the book is about two magicians who were raised and taught from an early age to compete in a competition. The competition takes place in a mystical circus which both magicians help build. However the competition is a lot more than it seems and soon many people are caught up in the intricate details. Though the last magician standing wins the game it might be better to lose.
The back of the book might imply it is some epic battle between the two magicians, but don’t be misled. This is not an action packed book. It is more of a slowly unfolding mystery. This may leave some people unsatisfied with the relatively simple (at least on the surface) plot. Often a different chapter will have a different character’s point of view which may be confusing until you get to know the characters. There also isn’t a character I dislike. They all feel different and alive. Some are better written than others, but the supporting cast are especially endearing. My favorite is Tsukiko. I either want to be her or just have more of her in the book! I was swept in by the characters and their stories mainly. The plot itself might be a little weak, but I was particularly interested in how it would all unfold.
The author uses such creative and gorgeous imagery. Her descriptions are a bit long which might be a turn off to some people, but a good word to describe the novel is atmospheric. The novel has a very certain style in the way it is written and the way everything is said to look which may not be to everyone’s taste. If you’re a Neil Gaiman fan you might find that this book feels a bit like something he might write. There are a few very short (1-2 pages) chapters that are written as if you are the one seeing the circus. She tells you what you’re seeing and what is happening around you. These caught me off guard, but for something so small it really roped me into the story.
Some readers may not like the dark fantasy-like style, description heavy passages, or the slow pacing. For me it is beautiful, page turning, and dreamlike story. Even though I was exhausted I powered through the last 200 or so pages because I couldn’t sleep without knowing how it ended. I couldn’t wait until morning to finish it. It is probably the best book I’ve read in a long time.