The Night Circus is a terrific fantasy novel about a beautiful and mysterious circus and two star-crossed magicians who are locked in a battle of illusions that can only end when one of them dies. Lush and imaginative, I found myself thinking several times that this is the type of novel I would like to write.
Celia’s magical talents are apparent from a young age. In an early scene, she breaks and reassembles a teacup with her magical mind. Unfortunately, her father, an aging illusionist, is an opportunist who binds 6-year-old Celia to a magic death match against whoever the mysterious man in gray (identified only as Alexander H.) chooses as her opponent.
Mr. H plucks young Marco out of an orphanage to train to be Celia’s rival. Marco doesn’t have natural talent like Celia’s, so he has to study for 12 years, learning charms and spells, before he’s ready to compete.
The venue for the competition is Le Cirque de Reves (The Circus of Dreams), which always mysteriously appears and then disappears from various locations around the world. To add to the mystery, it’s only open at night. The circus is a glorious place designed to appeal to all the senses. Every sight, smell, taste, and sound has been carefully crafted to delight the circus’s visitors.
The competition isn’t typical – it isn’t head-to-head and it lasts several years. Celia and Marco incrementally add magical features to the circus. But instead of a game of one-upmanship, Celia and Marco delight in each other’s work and build upon it. And, surrounded by each other’s magical creations, they eventually fall in love. Now they just need to figure out how to overcome this competition to the death.
There’s so much to like about The Night Circus. The settings are described in sumptuous detail. The author uses colors, textures, and lighting to bring each scene to life. The descriptions of the circus are particularly amazing. There are numerous tents, each with its own theme – an ice garden, a labyrinth, a carousel whose wooden animals appear to breathe. So imaginative and the author made me want to be there.
The characters were all unique and well-developed, too, including an enigmatic contortionist, a slightly debauched circus owner, and a pair of young, clairvoyant circus twins. Most of the characters were likable, including Celia and Marco, and the relationships among them were believable.
And the love story between Celia and Marco was sweet. I particularly liked how the beauty of their creations was a factor in falling in love.
Last comment about what I liked – I really liked that the author didn’t make this a dark story, which she could have easily done. Instead, it’s full of bright wonder.
As you can tell from my fangirl review, I really liked The Night Circus and highly recommend it. You don’t even have to be a fantasy fan to enjoy it.
Have you read The Night Circus? What did you think?