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Book Review: The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

I have read very few fantasy novels in my life, but each time I read one, I am simply blown away by the skill of the author in getting me to suspend my disbelief. It takes an extraordinary amount of detail, thought, and planning to set up a world of fantasy. I have come to the conclusion that if I am left feeling a bit breathless after some of the descriptions, the author has done his or her job.

This novel, set in a Victorian time period, is about Le Cirque des Rêves (the circus of dreams), a night circus, that “arrives without warning.” How this circus came into existence is a bit of a mystery throughout the beginning of the novel, but we see how the main characters play into the night circus quickly enough to become mesmerized by the story and soon we are taken on a nebulous journey of elaborate spectacle somewhat similar to being at an actual circus, wandering from tent to tent.

Two magicians who are really magicians (not illusionists, they actually perform real magic and just trick the audience into believing it was all illusions) have been rivals for years, competing with each other in various challenges through their pupils. These magicians believe they have created the opportunity for the ultimate challenge. Cecily, the daughter of Prospero the Enchanter and Marcos, an orphan adopted and trained by Alexander (aka “the man in the gray suit” ) become the pawns in this challenge. Their venue of competition? Le Cirque des Rêves. A subplot involving a very important young boy named Bailey, who becomes enchanted with the circus and one of its young workers, weaves its way through the story, ultimately providing the resolution.

Morgenstern tells the story in a postmodern, fractured way, providing short sketches of action and dialogue from different times, switching back and forth from year to year and location to location. This would be horribly confusing for the reader if it were not for Morgenstern’s rich detail and the distinctiveness of each of her characters. I found that if I just kept reading, not worrying about the times and places, that it would soon come together. This was not easy for me, though.

It took me two tries to get through The Night Circus. The first time, I was reading it at night before bed, but by the time I got back to it each night, I would try to place myself in the right time frame in the story, and I couldn’t figure it out. I only got about 75 pages before abandoning it. However, I had promised the student who loaned me the book that I would finish it, so I picked it up and reread from the beginning this summer and found that if I just kept going each time the setting and time was shifted on me, I would soon understand what was going on. In fact, I had abandoned the book just before it started to come together more clearly! Ah, perseverance.

You should read this book if you are looking for a challenge that might sharpen your skills or if you are looking for something different to read. I have never read a book that is anything like this. You will enjoy this novel if you love fantasy, or if you are a fan of the circus and magic, or if you are drawn to rich description and detail. There is also a love story (maybe two) involved in the plot, but to tell you who it involves would be to give away too much. Just go read it!

The release date for the film over this novel has not yet been scheduled, but it is currently in progress. I told my student that we will go see it together, and I cannot wait to see how the events are depicted onscreen!

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