Review: The Night Circus by Erin Morganstern

Bex from An Armchair by the Sea sent me this as part of her self-imposed campaign to make everybody in the entire world read The Night Circus. But hey, it’s a worthy cause because this book is amazing. I know there are already a million and four reviews talking about how pretty the book is, but just for continuity’s sake… it is really pretty. I’m not usually a fan of coloured page edges, but it just kind of works here. Combine that with the silhouetted illustrations and a shiny jacket covering a dark red hardback and the result is a book I want to store in an airtight room under MI5-level security to preserve it forever.

In 1886, a mysterious travelling circus becomes an international sensation. Open only at night, constructed entirely in black and white,
Le Cirque des Rรชves delights all who wander its circular paths and warm themselves at its bonfire.

Although there are acrobats, fortune-tellers and contortionists, the Circus of Dreams is no conventional spectacle. Some tents contain clouds, some ice. The circus seems almost to cast a spell over its aficionados, who call themselves the
rรชveurs – the dreamers. At the heart of the story is the tangled relationship between two young magicians, Celia, the enchanter’s daughter, and Marco, the sorcerer’s apprentice. At the behest of their shadowy masters, they find themselves locked in a deadly contest, forced to test the very limits of the imagination, and of their love…

It reminds me to a ridiculous extent of The Prestige by Christopher Priest (review here), and that will never be a bad thing. Both involve Victorian-esque magicians skulking around trying to defeat each other in a secret duel. But hey, there’s a circus so I’m hardly trying to deduct points from The Night Circus for originality. There’s no plagiarism and I’m not trying to suggest there is, just that I loved the pair of them ๐Ÿ™‚

It’s the atmosphere that does it, I think. That’s what makes it so compelling, so addictive, so… wonderful. I’ve never read anything like it. There is a plot, and a fairly fast-paced one at that, but it would be nothing without the beautifully descriptive prose of Erin Morganstern. Inserted between between every few chapters is a page written in the second person, detailing your visit to the circus –ย  I swear you can really see/smell/hear the infamous black and white circus swirling around you.

The relationships featured are just as wonderful as the setting – Celia and Marco, Celia and her father, Bailey and Poppet… Each relationship is built differently but with just the same care and consideration for detail. There’s no insta-anything. It’s easy to see the foundation for every single one and they all seem as real and feasible as the last. I particularly liked how Celia slowly grows away from her father – she gradually learns to stand on her own two feet and make her own decisions, and it’s wonderful to see her progress.

I do think the ending was lacking something, but I’m not sure what. A bit of ‘oomph’ maybe. It just seemed to drift on a little longer than perhaps it should. I’m just not sure it really need the bit of housekeeping that went on afterwards.

I haven’t read a book in a long time that’s so close to being perfect. Erin Morganstern has a talent for manipulating prose that will never be surpassed. I freely admit that I’m a completionist reader – I take a small amount of pleasure from having finished books – but even I wanted to savour every word of The Night Circus. I purposefully read it at the end of 2011 so I could pick it up again in 2012, and I will definitely be doing so.


  1. Got this one for Christmas, can't wait to read it. I'm glad that it lived up to the hype ๐Ÿ™‚

  2. Bex says:

    YAY! ๐Ÿ˜€ I love that you loved it! And I completely agree with you about the atmosphere. I was thinking about Harry Potter lately because I've been geeking out and rewatching all the movies this week, and I couldn't think of anything else that had created a totally new world as well as Rowling did, but this is it. I wanted to go to the Night Circus so much…

    I do agree with you about the ending, though. It wasn't quite as perfect as the rest of the book. For me the rest of the novel felt like she knew exactly where she was going with it – it just all seemed to fit together perfectly, but it sort of felt like the end was a struggle? I found it a struggle to read because I never wanted the book to end, but maybe that's how Erin Morgenstern felt about it too…

  3. You know, I've kind of kept on hoping that this isn't quite as good as everybody says it is but it is, isn't it? *sigh*

    To answer your question that I know (think?) I read somewhere but now can't find, I don't own this yet but I do have an Amazon gift card burning a hole in my purse that will do very nicely. I'll admit, I'm kind of lured in my the beautiful hardback even though I know that after a day carrying it around I'll resent it slightly…

    If the descriptions of the circus are even half as amazing as you make them sound, I'm already excited ๐Ÿ™‚

  4. I thought this book was magical. I guess it was the great description of being in a circus. Who doesn't want to live in this world?


  5. Hanna says:

    @Bex – You're right. Usually I hate comparing books to Harry Potter because it's rare I actually see a novel without 'HP FOR GROWN-UPS!' plastered all over it but I see your point here. Not that they're similar, but the realism of the new, shiny worlds.

    It's weird, I haven't seen any other review mention the lacklustre ending but it probably shouldn't surprise me that we felt the same ๐Ÿ˜› It didn't ruin the book for me or anything, but I just think it kind of fizzled out?

  6. Hanna says:

    @LIB – It is. Sorry.

    Haha, I don't know where I asked it either, but I know I did! Buy it. Buy it. Buy it. Have I ever steered you wrong? ๐Ÿ˜€ I ended up taking the jacket off the preserve the beauty and I NEVER do that.

  7. This book has been wildly popular, so I do want to read it one day, but I have to say I'm a little leery of the fantasy elements.

    Marlene Detierro (Alaska Fishing Lodge)

  8. Great book. Magic, suspense, takes you to places you never imagined. A wonderful new author and I hope many new books to come.
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