The Night Circus, by Erin Morgenstern

I picked up this book at the library because the cover was so pretty.

But as I was reading the book flap, I was a bit hesitant.  It implied a fantasy/romance vibe (perhaps my two least favorite genres) and I have a hard time stopping a book I start, even if I don’t care much for it.  So I opened up to read the first page to try and see if it would be worth it.  I only read the first line and decided to check it out.

There’s just something about good first lines.

I was whisked right away into a world of what I’ll call manipulations.  Magic seems too affected a term here.  Two old men, masters of manipulation of the physical world, have become removed from their environments and the people around them through their talents, their choices, and their age. They have been left unable to see mere humans as any more real than their illusions and their callousness has led to a sinister game. Les Cirque des Reves is the venue for the current competition, Marco and Celia are the players.  Without knowing the rules or the stakes, Marco and Celia and all of their friends and circus family become trapped in this challenge.

The Night Circus is difficult to categorize.  Although there were characters falling in love, it was decidedly not a romance novel.  In fact, I kept waiting for the twist surprise ending that they weren’t in love at all (it never came…). It had strong fantasy elements, but not in the form of witches, monsters, and dragons.  For the most part, I found the magic believable.  So I suppose it is a fantasy novel…

In fact, despite it’s flaws (did I mention the totally unbelievable love story angle?) I really enjoyed this book.  I couldn’t put it down and it was one of those rare books where I finished it and turned around and started it again.  But as I think about it, I’m not sure exactly why.  The writing was good, but not particularly so.  There were no phrases or sentences that I highlighted to remember for later, and yet I still enjoyed the descriptions of the different aspects of the circus.  The characters were interesting in idea but a bit one dimensional in execution.  Well, that’s not entirely fair, but a large part of their journey is left to your imagination.  And that was a major issue, you are left of assume/guess at the intentions of nearly every character in the book.  And you keep waiting for all the pieces to fall into place (the rules of the game, the reason it exists, the motivations of the players and side characters), but they never quite do.

And yet, I think the idea of the story itself was so interesting, that I kept wanting to learn more.  Not just to figure out how it ends, but I wanted to learn more about the characters, more about their world.  In fact, my major criticism of this novel is that I wanted more from it. More back story on some of the characters, more depth in the motivations of the two men that run the game, more emotion/growth from the main players.

Second criticism, I kind of felt like the book was supposed to be “the next big thing”.  It felt ready-made for a movie and fan club promotional items.  (Get your red scarf here!)  That was annoying, but what can you do in post Harry Potter and Twilight YA fiction?

Conflicting review, I know.  There were a lot of things about the novel that could’ve been better.  But despite it all, it was a thoroughly enjoyable read.  Maybe it wasn’t a nutritious, satisfying meal, but I don’t complain over chocolate mousse.

K’s rating of The Night Circus: 7/10 mangoes

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