Author Webpage: "The Night Circus" | Erin Morgenstern
* I originally gave the book 4 stars. I changed it as I was reviewing. Read the review for details.
Hints of: The Starless Sea, Harry Potter (ya’ll can cut the judgment), The Graceling Series (very good YA books)
Triggers: Caramel Apples, cats (dogs are better the end.), dad issues, occasional mansplaining
Warning: If you haven’t read any of Morgenstern’s books, great. Skip the rest of this warning and go read the synopsis and grab some cider to sip while reading.
If you have read The Starless Sea, you’re going to compare the two books. Try not to – I found myself having to set it down when my brain headed down that path. It’s not fair to the characters or story arch to do so.
But similar to The Starless Sea, this book doesn’t tell a chronological tale exactly. You’ll find yourself flipping back and forth, occasionally mixing up timelines and once again is often brutal to its characters. If you’re not into realistic “Game of Thrones” character endings, you may not enjoy this book.
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 per¬formers to the patrons, hang in the balance, suspended as precariously as the daring acrobats overhead.
As usual, I’m not going to give a recap of the book. That’s dull. Go read Amazon for that. I’m going to tell you my experience with the book. Which I hope encourages many of you to go read it, or if you’ve read it, to shoot me an email about your thoughts! If you don’t like my review, then don’t shoot me an email. I don’t care about your thoughts.
So I didn’t do things in the right order. Kind of like how on Instagram I keep posting these books I’m going to read, or have read, and I’m clearly doing a great job at posting those reviews in order and in a timely fashion. I’m breakin’ ALL THE BOOKSTAGRAM RULES.
So this time, I read Erin Morgenstern’s “The Starless Sea” (TSS) (Published: Nov. 2019) in November, and just finished her debut novel “The Night Circus” (Published: 2011). So I assume most people read her debut novel first. Well I didn’t. So when I started reading, I started picking up on her writing style.
Hear me out. Looking back over both novels, I picked up three solid parts:
1) A consistent “unknown” story
a. Night Circus: About Le Cirque des Reves.
b. TSS: Sweet Sorrows, Fortunes & Fables, The Ballad of Simon & Eleanor (Etc.)
2) A main story (told in Parts I, 2, 3, 4, 5)
a. Night Circus: The duel of magicians
b. Zachary Rawlins’ adventures
3) A secondary story
a. Night Circus:
b. TSS: Mirabel & Dorian’s Story
I had read a similar style recently, which is why I would give this book a 4/5 initially. It had been done before, either way you read it.
The beauty of Morgenstern’s writing, however, is the chronology of the main story. Even if you know the writing style, it is took reviewing the book for me to see how well she crafted passing down the main story through ‘generations’ I would call them. Which is why I changed my rating to 5/5 stars. It is honestly done better than TSS.
Why? TSS tells stories out of time, but the time was often unknown. The reader didn’t know if it was before, after or on the same timestream as Zachary Rawlins’ adventures. I loved it – but I know a good number of readers who didn’t.
The main story of The Night Circus – the duel of magicians – starts from the perspective of two magicians in the 1870’s. These men – 1) Prospero/Horatio/Hector and 2) Alexander/The “Man in Grey” – each select a ‘champion’ of sorts for their game. The story slowly passes to the perspective of their champions – 1) Celia Bowen/The Illusionist and 2) Marco/The Assistant. Their main stories are around 1890 – 1900ish. The duel perspective evolves a 3rd time, but I’ve left that for spoilers below.
The real beauty however, is not in the perspective or generation shift. It is the weaving of the main story, and the secondary story – Bailey Clarke’s story – who was on a completely different timeline than the main characters. How are they weaved? Spoilers, sweetie. Just know, similar to TSS, every small story and unlikely character plays a critical role in the book’s finale.
* Spoiler Warning *
Bailey’s story is between 1896 – 1902, but honestly, the majority is 1900 – 1902. The main story starts in the 1870’s and takes a quicker pace to essentially “catch up” to Bailey’s story. Why? Because he the next perspective shift – the 3rd generation – the unlikely character that most of us thought was just a farmboy.
But – in a TWIST of feminism – my favorite TWISTS – it is Poppet’s involvement in Bailey’s story that truly makes his character come to life. That’s not my opinion – that’s FACT. Poppet (and Widget) are part of this 3rd generation in the story, who eventually help Bailey take over ownership of The Night Circus. They’re twins born the night of the Circus’ opening. Down to the last chapter, she is saving the men in the book. I particularly love how Poppet helps Chandresh (the OG Circus Owner) hand over The Circus and clear his long muddled mind. Dear Erin Morgenstern, where’s my Poppet Story? Where’s my 2nd Book on the Museum blue prints?
Anyways, Poppet, in my opinion, is what helps Bailey realize he doesn’t want to do what his father wants. It helps him realize there is so much more than farming, or frankly than Harvard, although I love his grandmother’s short pop-in story. Poppet is essentially fearless. She is a circus performer. She is magical. She can see parts of the future. All of these factors aid in her aiding Bailey.
* Back to Non Spoilers *
This review was originally intended to be a breakdown of the story parts – similar to how I did TSS. I am glad it got into the generation dive. I am glad it turned into my love for Poppet & Widget & Bailey. Poppet showcases the strength of the women in this novel, incl. Celia, Tsukiko, Tante & the Twins. Widget represents what the men in this novel – Horatio, Alexander, Marco – could not be. He is balanced, respectful of his twin & other women and doesn’t abuse his knowledge like those 1st Gen magicians. Finally, Bailey represents the revuer, the child’s mind, the everlasting love for what is deemed impossible. His unexpected “Cinderella Story”, not expected by himself or most others, to me showed how even those we look over – non-magic, non-educated, young – can save the day.
Drink Pairing: A Hot Caramel Toddy (Salted Caramel Gin + Honey Simple Syrup + Hot Water + Brown Sugar + Cinnamon Stick Garnish)
"Is Magic Not Enough to Live For?"
"Look around you. Not a one of them even has an inkling of the things that are possible in this world, and what's worse is that none of them would listen if you attempted to enlighten them. They want to believe that magic is nothing but clever deception, because to think it real would keep them up at night, afraid of their own existence."
"But some people can be enlightened."