Book Review: The Night Circus, by Erin Morgenstern

the night circus book coverMy thoughts about The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern are complicated. I wanted to love this book, I really did. But…I didn’t love it.  And yet, I would still recommend it. Complicated, indeed.

First, a synopsis:

In 1886 a mysterious travelling circus becomes an international sensation. Open only at night, constructed entirely in black and white, the Cirque des Rêves delights all who wander its circular paths and warm themselves at its bonfire. The circus seems to cast a spell over its aficionados, who call themselves the rêveurs – the dreamers. But who is the sinister man in the grey suit who watches over it all? Behind the scenes a dangerous game is being played out by two young magicians, Celia and Marco, who, at the behest of their masters are forced to test the very limits of the imagination – and of love.

The synopsis itself describes some of what I enjoyed about The Night Circus – the mystery, the magic, the two lovers. There was definitely a heightened sense of style and atmosphere. The world of the book has a very lovely, dreamlike quality about it.

And yet…

It’s all too matter-of-fact for me. Like the beauty worked so hard for in the book was almost taken for granted by its creator. I felt a distinct lack of finer details, which led (for me) to a distinct lack of real tension or suspense. There is a certain level of intensity – especially in terms of magic and attraction – but it comes off sounding more like white noise rather than a riveting soundtrack. With some real conviction, this book could have been so much more. Instead, the loveliness felt too superficial by the book’s end, and instead of a real, solid story, I felt like I had just read through 400 pages of smoke-and-mirrors.

One review qualified this book as style over substance, and I think that’s true. But I also think that sometimes a bit of style is just the ticket, and for those qualities alone, I do think The Night Circus is an enjoyable read.

NOTE: The unique cast of characters in The Night Circus and the weaving of magic and beauty through the storyline make this book the perfect candidate for impassioned fan art across the web. You can find several examples via Google, or you can see some of the results at my teens’ favorite site, DeviantArt. Also, the UK publishers of this book have set up an interesting online browser “game” for The Night Circus, which does capture much of the magic and style of the book. Finally, film rights have been purchased, and I am curious to see how The Night Circus translates to the big screen.

night circus failbetter games

*ps…although several publishers do send me books for review, I bought my own Kindle copy of The Night Circus and have no material relationship with the publishers. BUT, there are Amazon affiliate links included in this review, just so you know.