Review: The Night Circus

Author: Erin Morgenstern
Pages: 387
Publication Date: September 13 2011
Source: Library ebook

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 Reves," 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 performers to the patrons, hang in the balance, suspended as precariously as the daring acrobats overhead. 

The Night Circus is an indulgent read. It enjoys lengthy descriptions of all sorts of magical, glamorous things, and the writing is imbibed with a heavy sense of destiny. In other words, it's one of those kinds of books, where the writing and the atmosphere take precedence over the plot and characters; where it's hard to 'get' the story, and perhaps that is the point.

I knew, coming in, that this would be a bit of a challenge for me just because these kind of slower reads always are. One has to focus on every word and feel the details, not just the general contours of the story which is what I usually prefer. I was expecting a Maggie Stiefvater-ish or Carnival of Souls Melissa Marr-ish story. What I read was early Maggie Stiefvater. For those that don't live inside my mind nor understand all my preferences, Maggie Stiefvater and I's relationship has improved with every book she has written, especially after The Scorpio Races. She writes similar atmospheric stories, and they truly clicked for me once I started to fall for the characters too. This book, sadly, reminds me of early Stiefvater because I was always enchanted by how 'cool' everything was, except that in terms of enjoyment, I thought it was slow and wished something would happen.

The writing is multiple POV and it's particularly interesting because it jumps time and there's even a POV that is written in second person so the reader can be involved in marvelling over the circus too. In fact, regardless of the interesting use of POVs and time, it's extremely clear that the whole point of The Night Circus is the Night Circus and the plot and characters are extraneous. It's almost sad for me that so little detail was put into the characters compared to the circus. The reader only knows of the characters through their ties to the circus, except for the supposed main characters and even then, they only get some development because that development is key to the origins of the circus. There is a particular character that I suppose was supposed to make the story haunting and gorgeous, but felt so utterly contrived that I was disappointed.

Considering the meticulous detail put into describing the circus, I felt like there could have been a better story. There is a mysterious, beautiful setting and what happens inside it is dull. It is too much about destiny, and not epic enough to warrant destiny. And when I say destiny, I mean that poetic way authors sometimes write when their characters feel right and follow these random feelings that come out of nowhere. If it's done right, it adds mystery and makes the story a lot more about feelings, and brings in the universe to truly make the story epic. Done poorly, it's a bunch of deus ex machinas. I wouldn't go as far as to say the latter is The Night Circus, except I think the book is incredibly close to that line and that is its biggest flaw. The ending does not make a lot of sense, which could be forgiven in these sort of stories, but it's not even satisfying. It feels convenient, and that's definitely not the haunting, beautiful ambiance the author was attempting to convey.

The Night Circus was fascinating. I tried to visualize it and in a way, it reminded me of Cirque du Soleil (and it made me want to go watch that so badly!)  in the sense that this was a blue ocean circus. I'm almost a little sad that I'll never get to visit it. The colour scheme is black and white, it's open only at night, it has the most amazing shows and food. It's such a delightful image and it is the basis of The Night Circus. It is a lovely basis and I wish there was more to the book than this, but, and I don't know if I can say this with any degree of certainty because I forget a lot, I will remember this lovely concept every time I go to a circus. The Night Circus is about beauty and dreams, and although there may never be a Night Circus, life does sprinkle in beauty and dreams, just to keep things interesting. The Night Circus (the book) is like an ode to that, and it celebrates the pursuit of such magic.

It is because of this last point that my thoughts are muddled. I like what The Night Circus sets out to do and it is imaginative and luxurious. Similarly, it feels long, somewhat dull, and the plot is weak. I recommend The Night Circus to readers that appreciate destiny, beauty, and extremely poetic writing with little action and character development. There is a reason The Night Circus is rated so highly on Goodreads and that is because it is capable of luring the reader into its spell. The writing is gorgeous and depending on the reader, that could be enough to make this book a favourite.



  1. I love this book. I have discovered that people either love it or DNF, so was curious when I saw your review. ( Particularly after you noted you are a Maggie Stiefvater and Melissa Marr fan - love them both as well!) You make some good points: the atmosphere captured me, the switches in time that carefully led up to the conclusion, the magical feats, the incredible circus descriptions that leave you longing to be there. I especially liked the multiple POVs that allowed the reader to get to know many of the circus cast, and presented the circus from inside and out and from many age views.

    But despite alI this, I always wanted a little more. (I am trying to make this spoiler-free, as you did in your post! SO sorry for the fuzzy references!) I had thought it was just to be able to see the Night Circus myself, but I believe you hit on it. The character you expect to get to know and commiserated with through the book ends up with less than the reader wants. Especially at the end! This person is not mentioned again after 'the' event. Maybe some day I shall contact Bailey and ask how the character is doing!
    Thanks for a nice revisit with one of my favorites!

    1. I totally encourage you to put spoilers in your comments under a spoiler warning. I'm curious about which character you are referring to, because I felt like this could be a lot of characters I wanted to know more about-- even Bailey.

      And I think I've always been a hit or miss kind of gal for these sorts of reads. Nova Ren Suma is another author that writes similarly, and I've really loved her latest book after feeling meh about the previous two. I'm glad you enjoyed The Night Circus!


  2. I have the same issue with lengthy, drawn out reads. Although they are usually lovely, magical and really capture your imagination, I wish something would happen in the in between. I've had this one on my shelf for what seems like forever, and haven't had the urge to pick it up because of the issues you've had with it. I want to love this one, but I think I might struggle to even enjoy it too sadly. Might save it for a rainy day.

    Wonderful review poppet, really enjoyed it <3

    1. Thank you! I think you should keep one just in case you're craving this kind of read. Although this book was not what I wanted it to be, it did what it set out to do (ambiance, beautiful descriptions, fatalism) very well. It's nice to have this if the mood ever strikes!



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