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The Night Circus: 12/06/12

cover art

I'm skittish of overly popular books. I'm usually the one who doesn't like the book that everyone else is praising. So I steered clear of The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern until I could no longer give in to lure of the beautiful cover art. I opted for the audio version as I often do with longer books because I can listen a little bit at a time without ticking clock of the due date.

The Night Circus opens with a tour. It arrives without warning and is open only at night. It's only colors are black and white. Fans of the circus, some who travel around the world to follow it, dress the part but add a bit of red. Though none of them expect it, they hold the key to the circus's continued existence.

Morgenstern presents the chronology of the Cirque des Rêves out of order. Listening on audio, I had to keep track of the dates mentioned at the start of each chapter. At first I missed a few things but once I noticed that things weren't in order, I paid better attention. As a fan of logic puzzles, I enjoyed trying to piece the story back together.

The heart of the book, though, and the part that will either make it or break it for you, is the competition between two aged magicians through their student proxies, Celia and Marcus. They are bound to each other and the only way to win the game is to kill the other. Caught up in the middle of this battle to the death is the circus itself.

The problem with complex projects is that they take on a life of their own. The Cirque des Rêves is no exception. That the resolution of the novel hinges more on the continuation of the circus over Celia and Marcus's competition and ill fated romance is a bone of contention for many reviewers. I liked it. No, I loved that all that dramatic build up (so common in fantasy) ended up being a few nights of closure for the circus. There was no threat to the world or the universe — just a magical but still petty competition resulting in a personal tragedy.

For me, therefore, the true protagonists of this complex fantasy are Bailey — a boy who doesn't want to inherit the family farm — and the twins born at the start of the circus, Poppet and Widget. It's their story that caused me to make excuses to sit in my car for a few minutes longer.

I have also gotten a copy in tradepaper to re-read the book in print form, just as I did The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making by Catherynne M. Valente.

Recommended by Devourer of Books

Five stars

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