It's kind of funny to see just how many people commented on the fact that they thought THE NIGHT CIRCUS by Erin Morgenstern was YA because *I* was reading it. Because most of the books I’ve read this year—and the ones I’ve been most excited about—have been YA, it’s frequently assumed that I only read (and review) YA. A lot of people I know were pretty shocked, which amused me because I never thought twice about it! I read whatever interests me. Come to think of it, of my all-time Top 5 novels, only ONE is YA—and it’s middle-grade, not teen. If I took the time to make a Top 10 list, I feel that books 6-10 would be much more fluid than the stagnant Top 5 that are hard to overthrow. But if I did have one, something tells me that THE NIGHT CIRCUS would be on that list.
According to the press summary that came with my ARC, THE NIGHT CIRCUS was one of the most-buzzed-about books at Book Expo America (BEA) this year. The back of the ARC mentions that despite the fact that this is Morgenstern’s debut novel, rights have already been sold in 22 countries (perhaps more now) and Summit Entertainment has already confirmed a movie deal, which IMDB is slating for a 2013 release at the moment.
THE NIGHT CIRCUS absolutely blew me away. It’s gorgeous and Morgenstern has breathed so much life and vitality into her world that I felt something missing after I turned the last page. I wanted more. I wanted Le Cirque des Rêves to be real. I’ve always been enchanted by the magic of the circus, whether watching Cirque du Soleil or last year’s six-part PBS reality mini-series CIRCUS. I have quite a few circus-related novels, too. There’s something so captivating and magical…but especially so with THE NIGHT CIRCUS. I’m having a lot of trouble putting into words just how much I loved this book. It’s about so much more than just a circus. Romance, intrigue, enchantment, betrayal, wonder… This book holds so many emotions and concepts.
The novel takes place at the turn of the nineteenth century and focuses on two illusionists, Celia and Marco. At the beginning of the novel, two men come together to re-ignite the rules of an ancient game that they’ve been playing with one another over the years to see whose student and method of teaching is best. The two men have very different beliefs from one another and what started out as an innocent game of skills has evolved into something much more dangerous. One of the men announces that his young daughter Celia will be his newest pupil, while the other goes to different orphanages looking for “the one” until he discovers Marco. The two children never meet and are never told the rules of the game, only that someday, they will be forced to compete with an unknown opponent.
They both grow up to become highly skilled illusionists, with Le Cirque des Rêves as their battlefield. Marco is apprenticed to Chandresh Christophe Lefèvre, the man who comes up with the idea of Le Cirque des Rêves. He helps implement it and bring life to a circus that comes alive only at night, where performers and the tents are decked out in shades of black and white and gray with no other colors present. Celia is hired as a perform and implements illusions. The moment Marco sees her perform, he knows that she is his competition, though Celia doesn’t realize this until much later. She only knows that her competitor has some association with the circus. The two begin breathing new novelties into the circus and making it richer and fuller…but at the same time, each new creation is a move in their game. Over time, Celia and Marco also begin to fall for one another, forming a forbidden bond that could rival Romeo and Juliet’s, since there can only be one winner and such a relationship will lead to nothing but heartbreak.
THE NIGHT CIRCUS is mesmerizing from page one. The first thing I noticed was Morgenstern’s unique writing style. The entire novel is in present tense. Yes, present tense! Upon telling other people this, I’ve heard that not everyone cares for such novelty. To such people, I would say that I didn’t even notice the tense after a while, much as I was able to overlook the crazy slang in Moira Young’s BLOOD RED ROAD earlier this year and focus on the story. Another interesting aspect is that Morgenstern weaves in bits and pieces of the circus from an observer’s perspective—and uses second person so that readers really feel in the moment, as though they’re really at Le Cirque des Rêves. While consistently using third person, she does focus on multiple perspectives to give readers a fuller, richer story, though it is still centered around Celia and Marco. Her descriptions are stunning. Take, for example, Opening Night, when the magical bonfire that is the circus’ heart is lit for the first time:
At midnight, the bonfire is ceremoniously lit, having spent the earlier part of the evening standing empty, appearing to be a simple sculpture of twisted iron. Twelve of the fire performers quietly enter the courtyard with small platforms that they set up along the perimeter like numbers on a clock. Precisely one minute before the hour, they each ascend their respective platforms and pull from their backs shimmering black bows and arrows. At thirty seconds before midnight, they light the tips of their arrows with small dancing yellow flames. Those in the crowd who had not noticed them previously now watch in wonder. At ten seconds before the hour, they raise their bows and aim the flaming arrows at the waiting well of curling iron. As the clock begins to chime near the gates, the first archer lets his arrow fly, soaring over the crowd and hitting its mark in a shower of sparks.
The bonfire ignites in an eruption of yellow flame.
Then the second chime follows, the second archer sends his arrow into the yellow flames, and they become a clear sky-blue.
A third chime with a third arrow, and the flames are a warm bright pink.
Flames the color of a ripe pumpkin follow the fourth arrow.
A fifth, and the flames are scarlet-red.
A sixth brings a deeper, sparkling crimson.
Seven, and the fire is soaked in a color like an incandescent wine.
Eight, and the flames are shimmering violet.
Nine, and violet shifts to indigo.
A tenth chime, a tenth arrow, and the bonfire turns deepest midnight blue.
On the penultimate chime, the dancing flames change from blue to black, and for that moment, it is difficult to discern the fire from its cauldron.
And on the final strike, the dark flames are replaced with a blinding white, a shower of sparks falling like snowflakes around it. Huge curls of dense white smoke swirl up into the night sky.
~pgs. 93 – 94 (Both ARC edition and final product)
It is so easy to fall fully into the world of Le Cirque des Rêves and become immersed in its wonders. There are gardens made completely of ice, bottles that can bring you to another moment/place in time, and unrivaled performances.
The novel unfurls delicately, revealing more page by page. Some might call this slow-moving, but the pacing never feels off. In fact, every time new information is shared, it clicks another puzzle piece into place, even just small things like “So THAT’S why there’s all that red on the book jacket.” THE NIGHT CIRCUS delights me on so many levels and I’m already anticipating the day I get to pick it up again and come back to the circus.
Stunning. The final jacket art is as fantabulous as the novel itself. It’s all black and white and gray with a hint of red. As mentioned above, the red is pretty significant, but it’s a moment you should read about for yourselves, so I won’t mention why here. The first time I saw final cover art for THE NIGHT CIRCUS (because none is featured on the ARC), it was a small picture and I thought the hand was holding a little doll! Only now do I realize that the hand is holding the circus itself. And you know what? Maybe that in and of itself is an illusion, as so much within the book is. What is reality and what is not? All the silver foil that shimmers like a rainbow when the light hits it just right feels magical and, again, really sets the tone of the novel.
A lot of the images are raised and feel coarser than the glossy black coating the rest of the jacket. Even the spine has a rougher feel to it. I love that the book has so many textures; it really fits in with the novels theme of differences. The interior pages are also stunning…so much so that I created a video so you can see this book in all its glory!
You want to know what else is gorgeous? The UK cover for THE NIGHT CIRCUS! Check it out:
Which do you like more?
I don't know about you, but I'm having trouble deciding! They're both amazing...and both represent the book so well! I love the font for the UK cover as well as the way the silhouettes are full of illusions, plus that little tiny punch of red. But I really like the dichotomy of the US cover, too!