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The Night Circus

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The circus arrives without warning. No announcements precede it. It is simply there, when yesterday it was not. Within the black-and-white striped canvas tents is an utterly unique experience full of breathtaking amazements. It is called Le Cirque des Rêves, and it is only open at night.

But behind the scenes, a fierce competition is underway—a duel between two young magicians, Celia and Marco, who have been trained since childhood expressly for this purpose by their mercurial instructors. Unbeknownst to them, this is a game in which only one can be left standing, and the circus is but the stage for a remarkable battle of imagination and will. Despite themselves, however, Celia and Marco tumble headfirst into love—a deep, magical love that makes the lights flicker and the room grow warm whenever they so much as brush hands.

True love or not, the game must play out, and the fates of everyone involved, from the cast of extraordinary circus performers to the patrons, hang in the balance, suspended as precariously as the daring acrobats overhead.

Written in rich, seductive prose, this spell-casting novel is a feast for the senses and the heart.

400 pages, Hardcover

First published September 13, 2011

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About the author

Erin Morgenstern is the author of The Night Circus, a number-one national best seller that has been sold around the world and translated into thirty-seven languages. She has a degree in theater from Smith College and lives in Massachusetts.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 98,516 reviews
Profile Image for Cait.
76 reviews · 1,686 followers
September 21, 2011
Aw hell, I'm going to rate this 4.5 stars. I can't resist this book was so freaking good. I don't normally change my ratings, so don't expect this TOO often.

My feelings are so conflicted about this book. I don't know whether to immortalize it for all eternity in a frame on my wall, or throw it into the fire.

So, how the hell am I supposed to rate this book? A million stars, one star, 837 stars, what? In the end I did some crazy, overly complicated math that really makes so sense in my head, and came out with four (which I raised to 4.5 because I'm such a weakling) stars.

For the longest time during the book, over two hundred and fifty pages, I thought that I disliked this book for some very specific reasons, but this is where the confusing part comes in so hang with me for a second: once you get to the end, you realize that you only thought you hated those parts, and it was really all part of Morgenstern's brilliant plan!

I know a few of you are probably giving me this look right now:

Don't worry, though, I'll explain! Let me start by saying that this is a book you definitely have to read twice. The first time, you really aren't going to understand all of the nuances and parts of this story until, well, until it's way too late. That's something pretty special-and rare-about this book; it reminds me a lot of Great Expectations in that way. Let me try to elaborate with, since I know you guys love this sooooo much, ........ a story!

Most books and/or series that you read these days, you pretty much know the whole plot (sometimes even books before the TSTL character does) and how it's going to end: in a predicable, sappy, cheezy, blah blah blah you've read it a million times kind of ending; sometimes even just a couple of pages into the novel. In The Night Circus , you really don't. The plot strings start out so loosely that you can see little to no connection to them besides the two obvious ones with Marco and Celia. You've seen loose strings before in many a sloppy novel, so you just dismiss out all of ones you deemed "unimportant" in your eyes and focus on Marco and Celia. Wrong move. You get more and more confused as the book goes on; what's with all the other POVs and time jumps? Really, just a general what the hell is going on? But that's not the truth; while you're so eagerly and attentively looking at your two little strings, Morgenstern brings all of those other little strings closer.....and closer......and closer together until, unbeknownst to you, she starts weaving them in with Marco and Celia. As I said, you're still in the dark about most of it, but you do notice that the book is getting better, but don't realize until there's only about forty pages left that, holy fucking shit, your two little strings that you started out with is now a huge, complicated, rope, but the book won't let you stop and analyze it. It carries you forward in a wave of sheer awesomeness as you devour every page. Then, you get to the end of the book, and your brain blows up. It literally blows into a million billion little pieces all over wherever you're sitting as your cat crawls all over you and nips your ankles (which is why I suggest you don't finish this book in a public place, because you will be incapacitated for several minutes and look like an invalid).

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When you finally get your brain back together, it almost blows up again when you realize that she planned for you to feel like this all along. She's been playing you and has had you wrapped around her little pinky finger from the start. Like Great Expectations, you're never really going to understand the plot and all of the strings fully until you read it through twice, when you can really fully comprehend every little detail that Morgenstern wrote into this story.

Now that I told you about how my brain exploded about twice, let me get on with this review and tell you what I thought was annoying:

What I'm about to tell you right now is not a joke. There are fifteen fricking POVs/main characters in this book that you're supposed to keep track of, and in case you still don't believe me, I'll list them for you:
3.Tara Burgess
7.Mr. Barris
11. Widget
12. Mr. Murray
13. Lainine
14. Tante Padva
15. Tsukiko
There are also chapters where she does it in POVs of other people from the circus, and sometimes she writes as though you're the one walking through it. Like I said, the first time you read through it, this can be very confusing and overwhelming, but once you read it through again, knowing the ending (and you can bet that I re-read this amazing book the second I was done with it) you truly understand these characters and why Morgenstern did it. And, no, I'm not going to tell you what at the end of the book made me change my mind so suddenly, you'll just have to read it yourself and be as astounded as I was. It's definitely worth waiting for.

Awwww don't pout, I know you guys will love it!

The other thing that hurt my head about this book was the seemingly obsessive amount of date jumping. We go from the early 1890's, to 1895, to 1893, back to 1898, up to 1901, back to 1899, etc. It was very struggling to read; she be in 1895 for a chapter, jump around through years for 5 or more chapters, then go back to 1985 like I was expected to remember everything that happened before, and most of the time it would be with different people than the ones I'd read however many chapters ago. It was hard, let me tell you, but what pushed me through, the amazing life preserver that Morgenstern threw me, was the writing.

Ohhhhhh the writing *drools at the mouth*

It is seriously some of the best stuff I've ever had the pleasure to read and enjoy. And for those of you that know me and have seen some of my other reviews, you guys know that that doesn't happen much at all. It flows so perfectly, sounds so beautiful, and uses just some of the most gorgeous wordplay I've ever read. It truly is stunning. Here's some examples that just knocked the breath right out of my lungs:

The circus arrives without warning. No announcements precede it, no paper notices on downtown posts and billboards, no mentions or advertisements in local newspapers. It is simply there, when yesterday it was not. The towering tents are striped in white and black, no golds and crimsons to be seen. No color at all, save for the neighboring trees and the grass of the surrounding fields. Black-and-white stripes on grey sky; countless tents of varying shapes and sizes, with an elaborate wrought-iron fence encasing them in a colorless world. Even what little ground is visible from outside is black or white, painted or powdered, or treated with some other circus trick.

The ticket booth clearly visible behind the gates is closed and barred. The tents are still, save for when they ripple ever so slightly in the wind. The only movement within the circus is the clock that ticks by the passing minutes, if such a wonder of sculpture can even be called a clock. The circus looks abandoned and empty. But you think perhaps you can smell caramel wafting through the evening breeze, beneath the crisp scent of the autumn leaves. A subtle sweetness at the edges of the cold. The sun disappears completely beyond the horizon, and the remaining luminosity shifts from dusk to twilight. The people around you are growing restless from waiting, a sea of shuffling feet, murmuring about abandoning the endeavor in search of someplace warmer to pass the evening. You yourself are debating departing when it happens. First, there is a popping sound. It is barely audible over the wind and conversation. A soft noise like a kettle about to boil for tea. Then comes the light. All over the tents, small lights begin to flicker, as though the entirety of the circus is covered in particularly bright fireflies. The waiting crowd quiets as it watches this display of illumination. Someone near you gasps. A small child claps his hands with glee at the sight. When the tents are all aglow, sparkling against the night sky, the sign appears.

(and here's another one)

The woman wears a dress something akin to a bridal gown constructed for a ballerina, white and frothy and laced with black ribbons that flutter in the night air. Her legs are encased in striped stockings, her feet in tall black button-up boots. Her dark hair is piled in waves upon her head, adorned with sprays of white feathers. Her companion is a handsome man, somewhat taller than she, in an impeccably tailored black pinstriped suit. His shirt is a crisp white, his tie black and pristinely knotted. A black bowler hat sits upon his head. They stand entwined but not touching, their heads tilted toward each other. Lips frozen in the moment before (or after) the kiss. Though you watch them for some time they do not move. No stirring of fingertips or eyelashes. No indication that they are even breathing. “They cannot be real,” someone nearby remarks.
Many patrons only glance at them before moving on, but the longer you watch, the more you can detect the subtlest of motions. The change in the curve of a hand as it hovers near an arm. The shifting angle of a perfectly balanced leg. Each of them always gravitating toward the other. Yet still they do not touch.

(one more, just to sate your guys' thirst)

But that is before it is wound. Before it begins to tick, the pendulum swinging steadily and evenly. Then, then it becomes something else. The changes are slow. First, the color changes in the face, shifts from white to grey, and then there are clouds that float across it, disappearing when they reach the opposite side. Meanwhile, bits of the body of the clock expand and contract, like pieces of a puzzle. As though the clock is falling apart, slowly and gracefully. All of this takes hours.
The face of the clock becomes a darker grey, and then black, with twinkling stars where the numbers had been previously. The body of the clock, which has been methodically turning itself inside out and expanding, is now entirely subtle shades of white and grey. And it is not just pieces, it is figures and objects, perfectly carved flowers and planets and tiny books with actual paper pages that turn. There is a silver dragon that curls around part of the now visible clockwork, a tiny princess in a carved tower who paces in distress, awaiting an absent prince. Teapots that pour into teacups and minuscule curls of steam that rise from them as the seconds tick. Wrapped presents open. Small cats chase small dogs. An entire game of chess is played. At the center, where a cuckoo bird would live in a more traditional timepiece, is the juggler. Dressed in harlequin style with a grey mask, he juggles shiny silver balls that correspond to each hour. As the clock chimes, another ball joins the rest until at midnight he juggles twelve balls in a complex pattern. After midnight the clock begins once more to fold in upon itself. The face lightens and the clouds return. The number of juggled balls decreases until the juggler himself vanishes.
By noon it is a clock again, and no longer a dream.

If you guys aren't sold on the snippets I just gave you, then you're all nuts. Certifiably nuts.

In the end, I would recommend this book to almost anyone and everyone, as long as they actually know what an amazing book really is. If you're huge fans of these books: Hush, Hush, Twilight, Halo, Angel Star, etc, read nothing else but those, think that classics are stupid, out of date, books, and don't have enough patience to be able to truly enjoy a challenging book instead of just being half filled on pathetic YA tropes, then this book is totally might be out of your pathetic league. But for everyone else, READ THIS NOW!.......... or else. If you think I'm kidding.....

I'm not.

Just kidding!

Or am I........?

Profile Image for Lucy.
102 reviews · 1,814 followers
May 11, 2012
Contains some minor spoilers.

I disliked this book, which means I ought to rate it one star, but it is not as awful as my one star shelf. One star books have to really repulse me to get that rating. The only redeeming thing about The Night Circus is that I didn't feel the one star compulsion to start a bonfire so I could properly dispose of it, hence two stars, but in this case it does not mean I enjoyed the book at all.

From the Goodreads summary: "But behind the scenes, a fierce competition is underway—a duel between two young magicians, Celia and Marco, who have been trained since childhood expressly for this purpose by their mercurial instructors. Unbeknownst to them, this is a game in which only one can be left standing, and the circus is but the stage for a remarkable battle of imagination and will. Despite themselves, however, Celia and Marco tumble headfirst into love—a deep, magical love that makes the lights flicker and the room grow warm whenever they so much as brush hands."

The above is a series of filthy, filthy lies intended to make you part with your money. Did the person who wrote the description read the same book I read? Or did he get so bored that he fell asleep and was forced to wing it for a deadline? If that's the case, I feel for the poor guy since I fell asleep reading this a few times, but I don't forgive the lies.

Lie Number One: "A Fierce Competition"
What Actually Happens: Instead of reading about a battle of wits, ingenuity, and talent taking place on a magical field you get two slugs racing against each other... over the course of sixteen or so years. Yeah, all those extra years might kill the intensity, but think of the emotional investment you make in those slugs. You can bring your new born baby to see them and go again every year as the fierce competition between the two of them goes on and on and on and on and on... Your child will have a driver's license when the fierce competition is over.

Lie Number Two: "A Duel"
What Actually Happens: For a significant part of the story the two 'dueling' magicians are raised separately with no knowledge of one another. For ANOTHER significant part of the story only one magician is aware of who they are 'competing' against. By the time the magician who was unaware is finally brought up to date they have been collaborating on projects for years... Yes, you read that right. They never stand toe to toe in any sort of competitive sense. They build little attractions for the circus and sometimes they built them together, leaving gaps for the other to fill because they like each other's work. This is how they 'fiercely compete' during their 'duel.'

Lie Number Three: "Trained Since Childhood Expressly For This Purpose"
What Actually Happens: This sounds like a warrior toddler getting out of bed and doing push-ups (or the magical equivalent) every day for forever with the intent of search and destroy. In reality, they both have haphazard educations from sociopathic father figures* who never tell them a damn thing about the competition. They don't know what they're doing or how to play the game (and neither does the reader for most of the book). I believe this is because the author had no idea how to make them actually compete or what she was doing beyond establishing a lot of overly descriptive scene setting. The training is just education from two different schools of thought on the subject of magic. They're not given any idea of how to be the victor. It's an experiment, which is vastly different from training a warrior as this is made to sound.

*The father figures are equally psychotic, suggesting that both of their philosophies are fundamentally flawed because they're both batshit crazy. One slices his daughter's fingers open over and over again to teach her how to heal herself, even smashes her hand to break her bones for a lesson, and the other does not know his ward's name until he is nearly an adult. Neither of them ever face any consequences for the things they do to the children or the many experimental children before them.

Lie Number Four: "Only One Can Be Left Standing"
What Actually Happens: Aside from the obvious ending the author works in, there's no reason that one of them has to die. The previous "battle" before this one (I'm sneering at that) lasted thirty-seven fucking years and only ended because one of the magicians committed suicide. There's absolutely no sense of urgency in this book. It moves at the languid pace my grandmother's overweight poodle used to meander around at, like there was no where to go and nothing to do. The author tries to force some urgency and pacing in by having both characters willing to lose the game so the other can win... but why? If you're playing a game of Monopoly with a friend (Monopoly might be too exciting a comparison to use here but lets work with it) and someone's going to need to commit suicide at the end of it then you... don't stop playing. You don't even have to sit at the board all day every day. You can come back once a year and make a fucking move. No one in their right mind would jump up and yell 'I shall die for you my dearest!' especially if you know your friend will jump up and say the same thing louder.

I don't know what happens if no one commits suicide? Does someone self-implode from excess magic? We never find out anything substantial. We don't know how past competitions ended beyond that single one. The book is left open-ended so that the publishers can milk this monstrosity all over again if it sells well.

Lie Number Five: "Despite themselves, however, Celia and Marco tumble headfirst into love—a deep, magical love that makes the lights flicker and the room grow warm whenever they so much as brush hands."
What Actually Happens: After many, many years of not knowing who the other magician is, Marco reveals himself to Celia. The author tells you sparks fly. Sparks do not actually fly because these two 'characters' are about as flat as they come. There's no resisting falling in love. They just decide to do it in true Edward/Bella/Twilight fashion. There's no "deep, magical love". The love story is next to non-existent. On top of that, Marco continues to see someone else for years after... why? I don't fucking know. But it's a big god damn deal because she goes nuts and disrupts some of the magic of the circus and allows Bad Things to happen.

There's so many other things wrong with the book. There's intertwining timelines. We jump back and forth decades in time, vanish off into characters who are at first totally unrelated to the circus and then have minor roles later on. None of the core characters are well-developed and none of the relationships are even remotely worth reading about. I don't get why the book is set in the period it was set in. Social standards aren't kept up. Maybe it was more atmosphere? Maybe it was so that the author didn't have to deal with the people who would show up to debunk the magic of the circus.

On that note, the magic was so obviously magic that I got annoyed. I feel slightly insane for typing that out, but hear me out. It's all supposed to be real magic done with a wink and a nod so people won't realize it's real magic. Turn a jacket into a raven and then grin and wave so people believe you just performed the best slight of hand ever. Of course, the tricks were too fantastical to be believed. The wooden animals on the carousel breathe... and no amount of great mechanics could have made that happen 100 plus years ago. There's ice gardens and foggy mazes made of clouds, fires that never EVER go out, no one in the circus or relating to it ages (minus kids), and circus tents set up by invisible people. Everyone in the circus assumes the set up is done by assistants... what? assistants they never see? Where are the circus people when the set up and packing happens? Where do they think the crew goes after? Really, Book? Really?

All of this happened as a contest between two old men who do nothing but sacrifice the lives of children so they can have the satisfaction of being right about things that are never. fully. described. One prefers things more obvious and in your face, the other is quiet and prefers a more book based education. Seriously? This was the propelling point for the entire novel?!

The world building and magic rules also suck. Anything the author wants to have happen can happen with minor limits. The only reason to read this book is the lovely descriptions and abundant scene setting. I do not recommend it to people who like a good story, although if you're into abundant prose give it a whirl. It's kind of like reading a travel brochure while high as a kite.

Edit: To anyone who has not read the book and might be making their decision to read/not read based on this review, I wanted to say many people I respect found more redeeming qualities in the book than I did. Here is one such review. Based on my experience, I still recommend reading sample chapters online first or a library trip.
Profile Image for Virginia Ronan ♥ Herondale ♥.
547 reviews · 34.7k followers
October 26, 2022
“How can I excel at a game when you refuse to tell me the rules?”

I guess “The Night Circus” is one of those books that make it especially hard to write a proper review and if I’m entirely honest I have to admit that I don’t even know where to start. It was unlike any other book I’ve ever read and therefore the usual structure of my reviews just doesn’t seem to be appropriate, let alone to fit.

”I would have written you, myself, if I could put down in words everything I want to say to you. A sea of ink would not be enough.”

To use it for such a particular book would be as good as impossible and since I’m no part of “Le Cirque des Rêves” all I’m able to do is to resort to the written word and to hope that it will suffice to convey all of my diverse emotions. And heaven knows there are plenty of them. ;-)

”There’s emotion,” she says. “Deep emotion but you are only on the shore of it, still near the surface, while it is waiting to pull you under.”

Just like Herr Thiessen I shall forever be a “Rêveur”, a Dreamer who looks at “The Night Circus” with wide eyes, getting lost in the intoxicating smell of the impossible and wonderful. I will wear my red scarf and explore the mysteries of this incredible and lovely place and as I walk down those countless tents and see all the different signs, I’ll pray that it will never lose its charm.
Because places like that are special. They rarely or barely exist in the dull light of our daily world, the knowledge we soon will have to leave this venue only igniting our wish to stay.

”Why haven’t you asked me how I do my tricks?” Celia asks, once they have reached the point where she is certain he is not simply being polite about the matter.
Friedrick considers the question thoroughly before he responds.
“Because I do not wish to know,” he says. “I prefer to remain unenlightened, to better appreciate the dark.”

We want to experience the magic, want to marvel at its beauty and strangeness, at its impossibility and rareness.

”She is radiant. For a moment, while they look at each other, he cannot remember what he is meant to be doing, or why she is handing him a piece of paper with the number twenty-three written on it in his own handwriting.”

The love between Celia and Marco is a never ending well of creativity, sweeping us off our feet, making us long for more. The details of their creations are incredible, the love and dedication they put into their work so delightful that we can’t help but get lost in their tents. Each night we try to explore another one, sometimes we end up returning to those we already know.

”I only hope that was as pleasurable a sensation for you as it was for me.”

To be one of the “Rêveurs” is a constant struggle, a never ending fight to find a balance between exploration and devotion. We want to indulge ourselves in the familiar, yet at the same time we want to surrender to the new. At a place that’s made to be impossible literally everything seems to be feasible as long as you’re willing to give it a try.

”Am I close enough for your illusion?” she asks.
“If I say no, will you come closer?” he retaliates, not bothering to hide his grin.

The only thing that never bends is time itself though. It slips through your fingers while you explore the circus, while you get lost in so many people’s dreams. It runs out before you even know it, the intricate dancing clock merciless as it continues to tick.

”You may tell a tale that takes up residence in someone’s soul, becomes their blood and self and purpose. That tale will move them and drive them and who knows what they might do because of it, because of your words.”

You’re too distracted to pay any attention to your surroundings though, too preoccupied with the performance of the red-haired twins. As the sun finally begins to rise, you realise that you have neither visited “The Ice Garden” nor “The Cloud Maze”. There’s only enough time left to do one more thing and you barely thought it before you’re already standing in front of the last tent you’re going to visit tonight.

“The Wishing Tree” is spreading its branches into endless night, countless candles flickering in the dim light. “Let me return to the circus.” You plead as you light another candle, feverishly hoping and praying your wish might come true…

”All around him, lights are popping to life along the tents, flickering like fireflies.”

Artist Credit: kemurai6 @ DeviantArt: https://www.deviantart.com/kemurai6
Profile Image for emma.
1,869 reviews · 54.6k followers
September 19, 2023
I did not care for this book, which has sat on my all time favorites shelf for two years, AT ALL.


There’s instalove, because of course. Characters are either a) horrendous or b) flat or c) somehow both??? Every other sentence is actually two forced together by a comma, because we all full-on adore a good comma splice amiright. Predicates suffer without subjects. The whole thing is so horrifically, tragically, life-bendingly slow and so boring it took me 9 days to suffer through it.


The setting is glorious, magical, awe-inspiring, creative, unreal, unique, fascinating, and altogether so painfully lovely any reader with half an imagination will be dying to pay a visit. DYING, I tell you.

It’s better than Hogwarts. Better than any fantasy novel. It’s life-changing and gorgeous and all around my favorite setting for all time forever.


Don’t forget.

This book is also really bad.

So how, pray tell, do I f*cking rate something like that? How do I review it???

I guess I’ll backtrack a little and cross my fingers for some fresh #inspo.

The Night Circus is a sprawling book (this is a nice way of saying it takes place over like a million years and is still somehow boring). We follow the creation of le Cirque des Rêves, which is an entirely black and white circus with some delicious snack options that takes place at night. It arrives without warning, no announcement precedes it, etc etc, you’ve heard the quote.

Something that should make this more interesting and instead makes it, in a shocking twist, much more boring, is that the circus is also the venue for a long-term magical battle.

Celia and...sh*t what’s his name...Marco? Is it Marco? Okay yes it’s Marco. Celia and Marco are two magician people (illusionists) who are both involved in the circus and use it to one-up each other until eventually they get way too busy making sweet sweet love to even try to be interesting.

It’s less hurtful because they were never interesting, really.

So that’s the plot but I cannot emphasize enough that it does not matter, is really boring, and only serves to take away any number of pages from just describing the circus. Straight up if this was 600 pages of unbroken description...five stars boi.

But it’s not. And here we are. Dealing with these cretins. (Marco, by the way, is the sh*ttiest person in the world and makes Boring But Otherwise Mildly Unpleasant Celia seem like a goddamn saint.)

As mentioned, the characters are, without exception, boring or bad or otherwise unpleasant. There was exactly one individual I liked, and said person was taken out of the picture faster than I can say “what the f*ck why do I never like any books I loved this book literally two years ago what is going onnnnn.”

And I can say that surprisingly quickly. (Because of practice. Because of all the times I’ve said it.)

God I hate the name Marco on this dumbass white boi. Unrelated but I do.

Speaking of that warty wimp piece of sh*t, T H E I N S T A L O V E! If I have ever read a worse “““love””” story (love in excessive quotes because I’m prettyyyyy sure you can’t be in love with someone just because his eyes are such a lovely green!) I cannot recall it. Marco and Celia are nasty together. Not because they’re cruel (although Marco is, to an innocent - albeit boring - woman), or because they’re gross in the sense that, like, a witch in a live-action Disney movie is gross (although it inspires a similarly visceral disgust in me): because they are sooooo lovey-dovey and emotive. Right away. And also for all time forever with no relief.

Enough o’this.

Bottom line: instalove. Horrible characters. Terrible (nonexistent) plot. BUT ALSO THE BEST SETTING EVER WITH NO EXCEPTIONS.

I don’t know, man. You decide.


i did not like this book at all.

also, i loved it.

(both of these things are equally true.)

review to come, once i get that sh*t sorted

currently-reading updates

me: *moves to college*

me: *has literally no time, doesn't open laptop for 3 days, has had a total of 35 minutes to read*

me: hmmm...i think it's time to pick up this 500-page, all-consuming fave of a book for a reread

wish me luck in my bad decision making!!! you have to, condemning my horrible choices is mean!!!!!!
Profile Image for Joel.
556 reviews · 1,667 followers
September 19, 2011
Wedding cakes are typically the prettiest cakes, but they are almost never the tastiest cakes. I am not a cake expert (can I be one though? Is that a thing I can be?), but it seems to me that the tools necessary to make a cake exceptionally pretty -- a vat of fondant, to start -- also contribute to the cake not tasting all that good (unless you somehow really like fondant, which is incorrect).

Don't misunderstand me, I have no issue with cake. The right decorations, the right frosting (buttercream, preferably chocolate), the right consistency (moist, but not crumbly), the right layering (chocolate mousse) -- it is a perfect example of a food that does one thing, but does it very well. And that's fine.

But a gorgeous wedding cake, covered in fondant and appliques, is only gorgeous until you cut into it, take a bit, and realize, hmmm. It's pretty and all, but you could do with a bit less artifice and a bit more of the good stuff. The cake part.

The Night Circus is a wedding cake with fondant that goes nearly all the way down. It is an exceptionally pretty cake -- captivating, intensely visual, ornate and delicately constructed, with unruly swirls of back and white and surprising splashes of vivid red. But what is underneath? Oh, there it is... a little bit of cake, way down at the bottom. It's pretty good, too. Light, airy, a hint of chocolate and smoke. But all that sculpted icing has lodged in your throat, and it's kind of hard to swallow.

Erin Morgenstern writes beautifully. This is a book about dueling magicians and bewitching enchantments, set in the Victorian age circus, so you can probably imagine what you're going to read, but she decorates her world remarkably well, creating magical attractions that are lightly sketched, allowing them to grow in your imagination (I want to play in the vertical cloud maze, and climb to the top and jump into a sea of wispy fluff).

But good lord, just re-read that paragraph. Magicians, Victorian circus, cloud maze, sea of fluff? Eye roll? I've read a few circus books, and I should probably get it into my head that they are almost never for me, because too much of this stuff can get to be a bit much. "Insufferably twee," I might have commented. Did I mention is is also a star-cross'd romance? With achingly, dippily sincere lovers?

I mean, whatever, that's fine. I can handle romance, I can handle reading long, elegant passages about the sets of various Tim Burton films. Just give me a good story.

But I don't think this book has a very good story. It is all setting, tone, establishing a mood. The story just kind of sits there, down at the bottom, under all that decoration. It isn't that interesting, and certainly not an entirely stable foundation. But maybe if it was jazzed up a bit? Put some filler in there -- a framing device, a needlessly fractured timeline. Does that make it taste better? Not really. The additional flavors are nice enough. They keep you eating reading, anyway (I can't remember if I am still talking about cake).

Now for a paragraph that I won't be able to shoehorn into the strained theme of this review, but it needs to be said nonetheless: I don't like it when books about magic put zero parameters on what magic can do, or how it is. The magic in this book is unrestrained and excessive and after a while, very boring to read about. It powers the attractions at the Circus of Dreams, but with no restraints, the attractions can be, literally, anything. So why was I yawning halfway through the act?

This book has received intense advance hype, and it will probably be a huge seller. Probably. But I'm not sure. If I wanted to further stretch my metaphor I would point out that you buy cakes at Jewel all the time but you only buy a wedding cake once.


Addendum to Danielle Trussoni: I found your blurb on the back of this book to be as uninspiring as your debut novel. Do you really want to be the blurb-whore who speaks of a book that is explicitly about magic with phrases like "so magical, there is no escaping its spell"? Also, "enchanting"? Also, "If you read just one novel this year, this is it"? Really? As long as it isn't your book, I guess.
Profile Image for Mark Lawrence.
72 books · 51.7k followers
July 24, 2023
I wavered between four and five stars on this one but then thought that I should show multi-millionaire authors the same generosity I show the struggling variety.

The Night Circus is very different from the kinds of fantasy books I’ve been reading of late. It’s not that it’s written in the present tense (I read the excellent Master Assassins recently and that is also in present tense). It’s not that is has a Victorian feel to it (the excellent Senlin Ascends has that). It’s not that it’s set in the real world (the highly enjoyable Paternus had a real world setting). It’s that there are no deliberate killings. There is, dear reader, almost no violence at all.

This is in fact a gentle, magical book. A lot of time is spent describing delicate and beautiful enchantments and illusions. A lot of time is spent describing the courses at exotic dinners. There is a distinct interest in fashion, interior design, and the layout/decoration of the eponymous circus.
It’s not a deeply philosophical book, or a deeply literary one (though there are allusions to Shakespeare) and it has a strong romantic element to it. So, very different from the kind of reads that I have been enjoying of late.

And yet … and this is why I gave it 5*, I read the book in a handful of days, which rarely happens. So Morgenstern clearly worked her magic on me.

I guess above all this is a work of imagination. There’s an element of mystery, there’s the romance, but the real star of the show is the circus itself and the finely described components, all of which bubble with imagination. The author succeeds in making you want to visit it, to experience its delights, to follow it across the world.

The story concerns two very powerful magicians who engage in a kind of proxy war via a series of protégés who are pitted against each other pairwise. But the war is a war of ideas and the contest is a vaguely defined showcasing of talent.

It’s not a story with any real tension, don’t expect to find yourself biting your nails. There are no thrilling chases, fights, there’s no real “baddy”. Everyone is very civil all the way though. It’s closer to Jane Austin than George Martin. But it is, as I’ve said, gently enchanting and more-ish.
Can I see why it has sold many millions of copies … no. Would I recommend it to you … yes. Oh wait. I guess that’s ‘all’ it takes to be a mega seller. If all your readers tell other readers to pick up the book, you have it made. Pick up the book.

As a side note: Years ago someone praising the prose sent me this line:

"Round spheres that resemble birdcages rise and descend while one or more aerialists move from within the sphere to without, standing on the top or hanging from the bars on the bottom."

It actually put me off. "round spheres" is redundant and I am picky.

But having read the book it turns out to be the only line I've any objection to!"

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Profile Image for Maggie Stiefvater.
81 books · 168k followers
December 4, 2013
Five Things About THE NIGHT CIRCUS.

Ordinarily when I do my recommendations, I do a “five reasons to read _____,” but I think opinions will be so divided on THE NIGHT CIRCUS that I think “things about” will be more useful.

1. This novel is not what it says it is. Well, back page copy is always a weird thing anyway, as it’s not written by the author. And a weirder thing because it is essentially a glamour shot of the novel. It is not a lie. But it isn’t really what the novel looks like when it’s wandering around in its bathrobe getting coffee and trying to figure out if that smell is coming from the kitchen sink disposal or under the table. The resemblance is always a bit sketchy. THE NIGHT CIRCUS’ resemblance to its cover copy is sketchier than most.

2. This novel is about a thing. It has people in it, too, but it is mostly about a thing, the eponymous circus. It’s told in third person omniscient, which means it sounds like God is narrating the thing, if God decided he really loved black and white tents and fancy umbrellas. The voice that narrates this book is interested in humans, too, but mostly about how humans make the circus and the circus’ magic interesting.

3. This is not a romance. There is a love story in it, which is good, because love makes the world go round, but it is not a romance. If you go in imagining to be swept off your feet from page one, you can keep on imagining. The novel starts before our lovebirds have hit puberty, so you’re going to have to imagine for quite awhile.

4. The circus is not really a circus. This is fine by me, because I actually don’t care for circuses. They smell, the animals always have that look of dubious maltreatment, no, I don’t want to win a prize by shooting that thing off that other thing over there, and also, clowns look a little grubby to me. No, the Night Circus is a circus in the respect that there are tents, and there are performers, and some of them are acrobats. Mostly it is a place where pretty, pretty magic is passed off as illusion so that us muggles won’t be scared by it. I’d go to that circus.

5. This is not a thriller. This is a not an action-packed adventure. It’s not even a simmering revenge or bubbling rivalry novel. It is a novel about a thing, with love in it, and it spans over a decade. If you have a problem with that idea, it’s best you walk away now. But if you like Ann Patchett or Audrey Niffeneggar novels, or if you really thought JONATHAN STRANGE & MR. NORRELL was the bee’s knees, well. WELL. You have just found your next read. Enjoy. I did.
Profile Image for Tatiana.
1,406 reviews · 11.7k followers
June 11, 2011
The Night Circus will be a 5-star book for a certain reader. This reader likes a lot of descriptions, doesn't mind a very slow story and has a soft spot for circuses. I am not that reader. I prefer imagery to complement a plot rather than substitute it.

The plot summary of The Night Circus promised many enticing things, but delivered, in my opinion, only on one - lush imagery of a mysterious circus that was a collaborative creation of two rivaling magicians. The book was good 80% description of various circus tents, performances, dinners and pretty, visual acts of magic. I did enjoy it for the first 40 pages or so, but it got old very, very quickly. It got tiresome, it felt indulgent.

The remaining 20% were dedicated to: a battle between the two magicians that consisted of... making up pretty things to impress each other (yes, you read that right, no actual combating of any sorts in this "fierce competition") and a lukewarm romance that came out of the magicians' fascination with each other's creations from a distance, rather than interacting in any meaningful way.

My resulting disappointment with the novel had also a lot to do with the writing style - Morgenstern chose to write in present tense, 3rd person. It worked well for describing imagery, but made the narrative distant, detached and the characters - unrelatable and flat.

To be honest, I am not sure if The Night Circus can even make a decent movie (the rights were bought by Summit). There was not much drama there or action, the story was anti-climactic, the love was dull and the magic was only vaguely defined and seemed to have no rules and limitations.

I am thoroughly puzzled by the book's comparisons to Harry Potter.
Profile Image for Richard Derus.
2,977 reviews · 1,989 followers
July 5, 2022
Rating: 6* of five

Sometimes, some books just don't lend themselves to an analytical, opinionated review. I'm reluctant to do that kind of review here and now because the experience of reading The Night Circus was like smelling a magnolia blossom...perfect, sweet, rich, satisfying a need I didn't know I had until it was met...but to examine it, to handle it, even gently, risks that somehow the magical smooth gorgeously textured vessel of chastely erotic pleasure that this book is will let it begin, inexorably and inevitably, to brown and curl and die, and become...just a wonderful book.

I'm not ready for real life yet. I want the magic to linger just a little longer.

The physical book itself was a Christmas gift to me from a GoodReads friend, and to him I offer humble thanks on bended knee. This was in the top five reading experiences of my life, and will most likely remain there for the rest of it. I am changed and exalted. And it is thanks to you, and your gift to me.
Profile Image for Rick Riordan.
258 books · 409k followers
December 4, 2013
The prose sparkles, and the story itself is a feat of magical acrobatics. It's a hard book to summarize, but basically two ancient magicians set their two best pupils against one another in a magical contest. Its venue? A mysterious circus that only appears at night. The only problem: the contestants don't really know the rules, or how victory is determined. And when the contestants start falling in love which each other, things get complicated.

Profile Image for Hannah Azerang.
130 reviews · 98.4k followers
September 11, 2018
I have quite honestly never had the pleasure of reading a more beautiful book.

I want to go back to the beginning and read it all over again. I just....I have no words.
Profile Image for Jessica J..
1,027 reviews · 2,048 followers
September 29, 2011
As a young girl, Celia Bowen is delivered to the father she never knew, a world famous magician whose secret is that his show is genuine magic - not illusions. He teaches Celia to manipulate the world in the same way so that she can compete in a high-stakes game against Marco, an orphan similarly trained by her father's nemesis. The arena for this game is an elaborate, surreal circus. Neither Celia nor Marco knows the extent of the game, nor their opponent, until they have fallen in love with each other.

I am going to blow the mind of everyone who gave this book five stars. My biggest problem with it was how badly Erin Morgenstern broken the cardinal rule of creative writing: show, don't tell.

I will 100% agree that Morgenstern did an incredible job describing the wonder and magic of the circus. Her elaborate descriptions of magical tents and off-beat performers initially drew me in, though I worried about how long-winded and verbose some of her descriptions could be. Morgenstern's problem is that the plot and character development takes places mostly through dialogue and not action. Most of the significant plot twists were revealed by one character telling another, which took most of the suspense out of the story. I had the same problem with the character development. There was practically no exposition to give insight into these characters, no sense that they acted with reason beyond the need to make the story do what Morgenstern wanted. They didn't feel real.

And the love story? Please. Dear Ms. Morgenstern: I do not believe two characters are in love simply because they say they are. They should act as though they are falling in love. Celia and Marco declare intense feelings for each other the first time they meet one another. The result is a juvenile, melodramatic, and inauthentic "romance" that I couldn't bring myself to care about. It's just like my friend's fourteen year old sister who declares her world-ending love for a different boy each week: "This one's different. It's real. I swear."

Similarly, it bothered me that the high-stakes battle unfolded in the form of Celia and Marco conjuring magical tents for each other...from afar. She did it from the center of the circus, where she was one of its main attractions, and he did it from London, where he worked as the assistant of one of the founders. I was expecting a dangerous, breathtaking game of one-upsmanship along the lines of the movie The Prestige. I know that the distance between Celia and Marco was necessitated by Morgenstern's love story, but it hardly made the game feel Life-and-Death. There was no suspense, so urgency, and really no sense of competition at all. Celia and Marco kept being told that they had to be careful and they had to up their game and that the battle would be coming to a head soon....but nothing ever seemed to come of these warnings. I never once worried that one of them was in danger.

I would give Morgenstern four stars for imagination and creativity, but her execution falls flat. If you want to read this solely for the descriptions of the circus and the magic, I'm sure you will enjoy this book a lot. If you're looking for a well-told story, look elsewhere.
Profile Image for Emma Giordano.
316 reviews · 115k followers
September 7, 2018
I have a bit of a complicated relationship with The Night Circus. I had been wanting to read it for 2 years now and was immensely excited to finally pick it up. I knew the prose was extremely flowery and lyrical so combined with an adult fantasy story, I anticipated it being a challenging read for me personally. I decided to listen to the audiobook after hearing great things, but quickly realized I was struggling to remain engaged with the story. After four hours of retaining almost nothing about the plot, I decided to restart completely. After giving it another try and putting in more effort than normal to ensure I was fully comprehending the story, I ended up falling in love with the story! After finishing and loving it, some of the faults of the novel began to sink in after the initial excitement faded and I realized it wasn’t the perfect novel I originally thought it was.

CW: child abuse, death

What I loved about The Night Circus was the atmosphere. The ambiance surrounding the circus and festivities felt tangible. I feel it would be difficult to read this novel and NOT want to attend such a mysterious and intriguing event. It was dream-like, captivating, and all around gorgeous. I love books that are extremely visual and I was not disappointed with this read.

This book is really slow-paced which I could sometimes get behind, and other times struggled with. There were moments where I really appreciated the time and care put into lengthy descriptions but other times I was begging to move forward. I also felt similarly to the time jumps – At times I felt they were intriguing. At others, they were confusing. Of course, it does all make sense in the end so I don’t consider it a massive issue.

My main gripe with the story was the execution of the competition; The synopsis details a high-intensity competition between two magicians, but that promise does not follow through. It takes until ¾ of the story to find out any significant information about this “competition” which leads to an extremely slow-moving plot. Due to that, there is zero sense of urgency. No true rivalry, no anticipation for how the competition pans out, no fear for the consequences of losing. I desperately wish there had been more to this plotline because there was so much potential, but it just fell so flat for me. On a similar note, I wasn’t swept of my feet by the romance. It felt forced and underdeveloped. I think with more interactions between the couple, it could have been enjoyable but the lack of exploration made it feel forced and mediocre. This romantic plotline has been done thousands of times in literature, and there was nothing notable about this take.

Overall, I did genuinely enjoy my time reading The Night Circus. I would probably give it a 4/5 stars entertainment wise, but a 3.5/5 for execution, but I’m keeping it at 4 stars because of how mesmerized I was by the story. This is one of those situations where I have more critiques than positive notes, but my overall feelings and memories of this novel are utter enjoyment. Despite my struggles with it, I would still high recommend.
Profile Image for jessica.
2,555 reviews · 35.6k followers
July 9, 2019
just as magically romantic and breathtakingly enchanting the second time around. ✨

it has been said that those who do not believe in magic will never find it, and this book is physical proof that magic does exist. every page, every word, every letter made a home inside my heart, which began to beat in a steady and strong rhythm of “i believe, i believe, i believe.” this story has woven itself into the very fabric of my soul and will forever be a part of me. a truly captivating story that made me fall in love with reading all over again.

5 stars
Profile Image for karen.
3,988 reviews · 170k followers
June 19, 2018
shrug. yeah, i had a good time reading this book. i got really swept away in its atmosphere, and it didn't disappoint me because i didn't go into it thinking it was going to be a masterwork of literature, explaining the human condition and changing the way i saw myself and my relationships in the future. it presented itself as a fantasy novel about a magical victorian circus and that's exactly what it gave me.

i think it is most successful in terms of its mood and its atmosphere. this is not a novel where character development is a priority.it is, and remains,le cirque des rêves. dreams don't need to explain themselves, to me, they just have to be interesting. i think the novel early on absorbed some of the dream-logic from its subject, and as time passed and situations occurred without any sense of explanation, i was just the reader getting carried along with the text; the dreamer following the imagery. it is not that her language is hypnotic, but she has a definite ability to write imagery, and to kindle the reader's imagination.

the plot is simple. against the backdrop of a mysterious circus that appears and disappears around the world without warning, operating in the deepest hours of night, two master magicians release their protégés in a battle of magical one-upsmanship...to the death. yes, it is less dramatic in reality, as years pass and the battles play out more like a contest martha stewart would devise to get her magazine staff motivated...but with magic! it becomes a call-and-response between two magicians who are initially unaware of the other's identity or abilities as they create incomparable attractions in the circus' confines, and struggle to maintain them as time passes and the strain of keeping all their magical balls in the air begins to take its toll.eventually competition gives way to mutual admiration and then... well, magic.

she does love to stress the color scheme of the circus. joel had the best line ever: I can handle reading long, elegant passages about the sets of various Tim Burton films. hee-hee. agreed.

but i loved her descriptions - i could actually envision this circus, and the attractions, and the marvelous flights of fancy - it all just stirred my imagination in a completely rewarding way, and this is a circus i would want to attend. also, dinner parties i would want to attend. yeah, bb, she's talking about me.

god, remember when magic was everywhere? there was that moderately popular children's book series about the boy who was like a wizard or something? and then Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell came out in 2004, and then in one single year, both

based on a story from here:

The Knife Thrower and Other Stories


based on this book:

The Prestige

came out and everything was magical all the time? it was almost too much magic.

i'm glad we took that break to let vampires and other things break up the feeling of magician overload.

and i am glad i read this book for the "readers' advisory for all group read #2. and i'm glad i didn't let all the negative reviews change my mind. i agree with some of the points others made, but ultimately, i found this to be a wholly satisfying book whose reading experience mirrored the themes of magic and dreams, and i was glad that there was still some secrecy at the end of it all.

i mean, you know what happens when a magician reveals their secrets, right??

no one wants that.

come to my blog!
Profile Image for Petrik.
688 reviews · 46k followers
February 13, 2017
Buddy reading this book with my favorite Princess Celeste

2.5/5 Stars

There will be rants on this review, if you're easily offended I recommend you to stay away from continuing.

I really wish I could rate this higher but if you heard about this book already, you probably know there have been a lot of mixed reviews on it. It’s either you really love it or you really hate it. Sadly, I’m one of those closer to hating it.

Before you read this book, I must state two things.

1.DO NOT TRUST THE BLURB & THE REVIEWS WRITTEN ON THE BACK OF THE BOOK. THEY ARE SO MISLEADING AND WILL RUIN YOUR EXPECTATIONS OF THIS BOOK. Seriously, whoever wrote those deserve to get fired, they completely misled me into buying this book with wrong expectation.

2. The Night Circus is not a plot centered book, it’s not a character driven book, it’s a setting centered book and guess what the book is about? (Hint: the title). This is literally what the book is about.

I’ll get around to them later but first I’ll start my review with my favorite part of the book, the writing and setting.

I can’t stress this highly enough, just look at all other reviews on this, even from those who gave this book 1-3 stars, everyone agreed that Erin Morgernstern’s writing is an absolute beauty. Everything in this book is written so beautifully and enchanting that it made me really wish a circus like this do exist.

The setting, the clothes, the magic and even the food are so magical and written in so much detail. (Seriously, prepare to play Hunger Games on your fridge.) Honestly, Morgernstern’s writing alone truly deserves 5 stars, it's the only reason why I still gave the book 2.5 stars even though I have so many problems with it.

I like to think of Morgernstern writings as makeup. You know when you put on makeup to make yourself more pretty or hide the imperfection such as pimple on your face? This is exactly the case. It’s like Morgernstern conjured a spell of BB Cream and Concealer to hide the fact that there’s so many problem within the book.

Now I’m going to talk about the problems, remember that this is all just my observation and opinion.

1. The main characters developments are close to none.
For me, great character developments are one of the most important factors in my love for any book. Other than Bailey, Widget and Poppet (which don’t have enough appearances, Bailey should’ve been the main character rather than Marco or Celia.) I seriously don’t give a shit what happened to any of the other characters because they’re all so flat. There’s just not enough development on them to make me really care. Even after knowing what happened to some of the characters in the book at the end, the only reaction I could give is

2. Extremely slow paced with no plot progression.
I don’t mind slow paced book as long as there is some sense of plot progression, character developments or great climax and satisfying ending waiting for me at the end. In fact, I really love slow paced books which took its time to develop the plot and characters carefully. However, in this book, not only the plot moved at a snail pace, there are so MANY unnecessary parts that could be cut out. Page 220-350 is a major snooze fest for me. All they talk about is the Night Circus over and over again which I get it already, it’s magical. The color of tents is black and white, there’s a majestic clock and a white bonfire, stop repeating them over and over again! These 100+ pages could’ve been used to develop the characters and plot more but no, we get tons of repetitive description again on The Night Circus and unimportant information.

Now let’s talk about the most misleading part in the blurb as well as the rest of the problems. (yes there’s still more.)

1. “A fierce competition is underway” and “The circus is but the stage for a remarkable battle of imagination and will”
I can’t say much about these without spoiling the ending but I’ll say this, there’s no FIERCE competition at all. Don’t expect any kind of skill, action or magic rivalry, there is none. Even the main characters don’t know what the competition is about until around page 400 out of 500 which is really dumb. By the time it was revealed, it was super underwhelming and provide no intensity to the story whatsoever.

2. “Morgernstern manages to conjure up a love story for adults that feels luxuriously romantic” –The Washington Post
Whoever wrote this is either a kid, someone who read a different book or batshit insane cause the love story that occurred in this book is definitely not a luxuriously romantic adult love. It’s instead one of my most hated trope in books, insta-love. The love stories happened twice in this book and guess what? Both of them involved one of the main character, and are both insta-love. Both happened within ONE CHAPTER on their FIRST TALK with each other. The magicians in the story, especially seriously need to use some of their magic to keep control of their libido. It will save some of the major conflicts that happened in the book.

Overall, I don’t like the book and I’m really disappointed with it. It starts off really great only to loses its charm and magic quickly. Inflicted with a lot of problems, this is currently one of my lowest rated books in my bookshelves. I should state this though, if you’re looking to read something magical, beautiful settings with absolutely beautiful writings ONLY, I’ll definitely recommend this. However if you’re looking for something with great story, satisfying ending, fantastic characters development, great romance or even an ant sized of actions, nope, I can’t recommend this book. You won’t find any of them here, I’d even tell you to stay away but again, all of this is purely my opinion and my review, you could end up loving it much more than I do.

As I mentioned in the beginning of my review, it’s either you hate it or you love it. Sadly, like the quote in the book “The circus arrives without warning” for me it’s more like “The disappointment arrives without warning.”
Profile Image for Sean Barrs .
1,119 reviews · 44.8k followers
May 2, 2020
Some books touch your soul in unexpected ways.

I’ve never been to a circus nor have I ever had a wish to go to one. But after reading this I want to go to one. Admittedly, this is plain folly because a circus this beautiful and enchanting could never be reality; it’s simply too wonderful, and could only ever exist amongst the pages of a magnificently written book. Real circuses are horrible places that are full of cruelty, animal exploitation and vile entertainment. What I mean to say is that I actually want to go to the Night Circus not just some random circus!

Damn you Erin Morgenstern for making my heart long for the impossible!

The wonder of the circus is captured on the very first page. It's described as a place of magic and wonderment; it simply appears out of nowhere. The gates, as the name suggest, only open at night. Morgenstern then goes further and teases us with descriptions of circus food and beverages; she creates a place that is majestic and thoroughly irresistible. The atmosphere that is created throughout is spectacular. I want to go there. (Have I said that already?) Well, I’ll say it again: I really want to go there! Like, now! Can you blame me? It’s just all so magical and beguiling:

“The circus arrives without warning. No announcements precede it. It is simply there, when yesterday it was not. Within the black-and-white striped canvas tents is an utterly unique experience full of breathtaking amazements. It is called Le Cirque des Rêves, and it is only open at night.”


But, that’s not all the book has. That’s only half its wonderment. The circus is a mere stage for an old grudge match between two opposing magicians. The two have been at war for a long time, and they’re using their two respective apprentices to fight their battle for them. The two are trying to create the most powerful magician who will best the other’s student. The circus is a staging ground (a charming one at that) for the competition, and the two young students are little more than tools for their masters. Except here’s the problem and solution: they fall in love (arrrrr!) This book wouldn’t be complete without the romance elements; it fulfils it, even if it is a little predictable.



The romance that developed is handled superbly. It wasn’t remotely rushed, though at the same time it was clear that the initial attraction was there. It was built up slowly and eloquently. The relationship that developed was believable; it was, in essence, very much like the book: pure magic. I think it was intensified by the fact that they should have been enemies not soul mates; it made it feel like it shouldn’t be happening, but was still unavoidable. It was all so good, and I truly didn’t expect to like it so much. I’m not fond of the circus because of the exploitation involved. This, however, was something completely different.

“The finest of pleasures are always the unexpected ones.”

I have nothing negative to say about this book whatsoever; I have no criticisms or complaints. For me, it was a perfect reading experience. So come and read this book, and be prepared to be thoroughly charmed.


You can connect with me on social media via My Linktree.
Profile Image for Emily (Books with Emily Fox).
553 reviews · 60.5k followers
January 16, 2020
Reviewing this book 2 years after I read it because.... this was a huge disappointment for me.

Don't get me wrong, I agree that the writing and world building were beautiful but this was the most anticlimactic ending ever. It had been sold to me as a "duel of magic between magicians" but really the world duel is used veeeeery loosely.

If you enjoy slow paced books that are atmospheric you might enjoy this more than I did.
Profile Image for Hailey (Hailey in Bookland).
614 reviews · 87.8k followers
February 2, 2018
Reread: 2018

Maybe more like a 2.5/5?
I apparently enjoyed the audiobook much more because this time around I was really into it (and I remembered basically nothing from my original read, or listen rather) but then I got to the middle and I completely lost steam. I didn’t connect with it in the way I had wanted to and while there were some aspects I found very interesting, for the most part I felt like I was constantly waiting for more (which seems to be the point of the book). Just not for me anymore I guess!


This was unlike anything I've read before. Everything about this book was so intricately crafted and made for a masterpiece of a story. The characters and the circus itself were just something out of this world and it was really incredible. The writing was amazing as it built this ambiance leading up to the end of this book.

That being said, I had some qualms with this book that made it not be a 5 star book for me.
The pacing was very slow. I'm generally a fast reader so I get frustrated with slow paced books. This is a book you are meant to take your time with so you can be absorbed into the world and the magic of the circus, and for me, that's kind of a negative. It wasn't really a bad thing but I just like fast paced books is what I'm trying to say.
I felt there were waaaay too many characters. It was hard for me to keep track of who was who and what they did and it was a little bit confusing at most times.
And finally I just felt like there was something missing for me. I cannot put my finger on what it was, but just something.

Overall I did enjoy this book and I would recommend it. I assure you it's unlike anything you've ever read before.
Profile Image for Becky.
1,384 reviews · 1,650 followers
January 20, 2013
I never expected to like this book. Just from the title I knew it wasn't for me, but so many people spoke highly of the book, so I read some reviews... And my opinion remained the same. This wasn't for me. Nothing about it appealed to me, and so I had no interest in ever reading it. But, it was chosen for my bookclub, and so I read it. Technically. And now I am going to rant about why I wish I hadn't. In detail, which means there's gonna be spoilery stuff, probably.

Here we go:

I don't like reading about circuses or parties or scenes of revelry and dreamlike wonder.
I don't like reading about unrestrained, no-holds-barred magic that is only limited by the imagination of the magician, with no boundaries or explanation of how it works.
I don't like magical realism.
I don't like endless descriptions of every-fucking-thing ever.
I don't like books without a point or plot or reason for existing beyond their own wank.
And I REALLY don't like insta-love and completely unrealistic "love will find a way" stories. (And don't give me crap about it being fantasy either. That's just a shit cop-out for lazy storytelling.)

Annnnnnnd since that's exactly what this book was, it should come as no surprise that I did not enjoy it.

I know. I'll give you a moment for this revelation to settle.

Why hello there, Clock. Fancy meeting you here! ...Are you following me?

Ugh. Reading this (or I should say listening to it- but more on that in a bit) was mind-numbingly tedious and just all around awful. I can't think of a single thing that I enjoyed about this book. I can't even say, "Oh the writing was good" because the writing was so fucking purple that I feel like the Purple People Eater mistakenly ate something that didn't agree with him, perhaps one of the oh-so-interesting guests at Mr. Lefevre's parties, mmm? And then it shat out this book.

He looks pleased with himself.

So we have ENDLESS descriptions of parties, endless descriptions of the food at the parties, and the people at the parties, and the clothes the people at the parties are wearing, and how OH SO EXCLUSIVE the parties are, which is good, because for fucking fuck's sake if I had to endure MORE guest descriptions I think I might really have ice-picked my own face.

Then we have ENDLESS descriptions of the circus, and the tents in the circus, and the ground at the circus, all of the signs at the circus and on the individual tents, and the food at the circus, and the non-tent attractions at the circus, and everything you can imagine at a circus and even 50 things you can't. And let's not stop at one example, or two examples, let's have ALL of the examples. If there's 12 chimes on the CLOCK during the lighting of the bonfire and each corresponds to an arrow fired into the cauldron where the fire will soon be lit, we have to have every last one of them described, in detail, with the seconds leading up to the first chime spelled out too (DRAW, NOTCH, PULL....RELEASE!). Described to the point of brainmush, in fact. Perhaps Erin Morgenstern thinks she's the only person on the planet with any imagination, because her descriptions left absolutely nothing for anyone else to imagine.

Oh, no, I take that back. We get to imagine all the stuff she DIDN'T describe to death... or even bother to include. You know, like the plot. Or the magical education specifics. Or the moves in the OH SO IMPORTANT Challenge (capital C) that is apparently, supposedly, the point of this book's and the circus's existence. We are allowed to imagine that stuff, because, though we're told that they exist, THESE things are apparently not even important enough to warrant any explanation at all. Not when we have super vital things like CLOCKS to describe and hint at incessantly!

Speaking of the Challenge-slash-Duel-slash-Competition thing... Could it have possibly been more lame?

"The first move has occurred. The earth shook and I felt a disturbance in the Force!"
"What was the move? What does it mean? What happens now? Does this mean this story is going to actually start soon?"
"Hmm? What move? OH, hey! Wanna see my dress? Let me describe it to you!..."
"FML. I can't even. I just.... Can't."

And that's the duel, until the point when *gasp* THIRTY YEARS AFTER BEING BOUND TO THE CHALLENGE, they find out what the fucking stakes are... and then they do (wait for it...)

Nothing. The universe does all the work and these two "main characters" just get moved around like chess pieces. Only chess pieces have a purpose, unlike Marco and Celia.

Moving on... I hated the way the story jumped around in time. And I REALLY REALLY hated the lapses into 2nd person narrative to take me inside the circus. I don't like circuses, and especially don't like magical, whimsical circuses of dreams (imagine me saying that with as much disgusted sarcasm as possible). I don't give two craps about the endless tedium tents of the circus, so those parts were boring as hell for me.

I would also love to know how a pregnant woman in the late 19th, early 20th century would know that she's having twin babies, specifically. There was no sonograms back then, no ultrasounds to show Mom and Dad their little bun(s) in the oven, so short of X-ray vision, or some sort of precognition (which seems more likely), there's no way that anyone could have known. But no explanation is given for that little tidbit. We're just supposed to say, "OK then!" and let our eyes glaze over with the next 15 or 20 mentions of clocks, I guess.

And then there's Jim Dale, who read the audio. I just can't stand him. I just can't. His voice and reading style make me angry. I hate when readers have to do the voices and can't let characters speak for themselves. He gave these characters voices that completely clashed with my impressions of them, and it was distracting. Not that any of the characters were truly remarkable on their own, but I'd rather them be unremarkable than memorable for being a distraction from their own story.

But, speaking of characters, I didn't care about any of them. At all. Literally. I couldn't have cared less if an enormous sinkhole opened up and swallowed up the entire circus. No big loss. None of the characters were real enough for me to care about. Oh, we're told all about their personalities and whatnot, but for all Morgenstern's showing of everything else, her characterization leaves quite a lot to be desired.
Marco apparently thinks it's OK to lead on his girlfriend for years, while cheating on her RIGHT UNDER HER NOSE... but that's OK, because he just erases those memories. No harm, no foul!

Celia is just a Mary Sue. I actually forgot that "the illusionist" was her sometimes, because both could have been anyone. There's absolutely nothing interesting about her at all. Her magical abilities aren't a substitution for personality, you know.

Celia doesn't even say Marco's name until the last 3rd of the book, and then only at his specific request. But I'm supposed to believe they are in love. Uh huh.

But they have to be in love, otherwise the Love Shall Overcome deus ex machina trope that needs to die a horrible painful death would be out of place! Can't figure out how to legitimately get out of the corner you wrote yourself into? It doesn't matter! As long as the two Insta-Lovebirds are together, nothing can harm them or happen to them. The universe will (apparently) conspire to bring about the one solution that will be timed perfectly (know what shows the time? CLOCKS.) and will make EVERYONE a winner. Because everyone gets their reward if they just show up and then give up. Whenever there's a winner, there's also a loser, and losers are sad. The universe won't let you be sad, so it'll change EVERYTHING around to make sure everyone's a winner! No hurt feelings here!

You'd think, that by the end, the glorious, long-awaited end, I'd have known better than to assume that there would be a proper ending, or any kind of sacrifice or trial or... broken nails or even a dirty dress or SOMETHING. Nah. Silly me. The end was so ridiculously "perfect", and fell together so effortlessly, that the ridiculousness actually cost me IQ points.

What was the point of enduring reading this book? It has nothing to say except the tired "If you just love ENOUGH, you can do anything" shit that only tweens actually believe.

So. There's no point, endless, tedious descriptions of things I couldn't care less about, the lamest conflict EVAR, and insta-love to boot.

I wish I could give this negative stars.
Profile Image for ✨ A ✨ .
432 reviews · 1,792 followers
October 20, 2020
I want to take this book and stuff it in the hands of everyone I know.

“I would have written you, myself, if I could put down in words everything I want to say to you. A sea of ink would not be enough.”

“But you built me dreams instead.”


I actually bought this book a year ago and it's been sitting on my shelf tempting me this entire time. The mixed ratings I've seen made me nervous to read it, but I'm so glad I finally did.

It is the kind of book I wish I could experience all over again for the first time. And as I am writing this review, I miss this world that Erin Morgenstern has created.

As I am known to do: I did not look at any reviews for this book and I basically knew nothing about the plot when I started. I'm so glad I did that. I highly believe that this is the sort of book you should dive into blindly, you'll either love it or you'll hate it.

I suggest doing that but if you want to continue reading this review go ahead. I'll try not to give too much away about the story and leave the mystery of the book for you to find when you read it.

The circus arrives without warning. No announcements precede it. It is simply there, when yesterday it was not.

I'm sure you've gathered from the title, this is a story about a circus that only opens at night. But this circus —Le Cirque des Rêves— is unlike anything imagined.


Trained from childhood specifically for a purpose, two magicians, Celia and Marco must play the game without being told the rules — only that they have no choice but to play and that the circus is their venue.

This story spans over many years. We follow these magicians through their training to the very conception of the circus and through the years of their magical duel.

But there is a price to pay for their magic and unbeknowest to them, the price could effect everyone and everything they love.

“Like stepping into a fairy tale under a curtain of stars.”

As this book is Adult the plot and writing is slower paced. I personally enjoy slow paced books especially if the writing is good. Morgenstern's writing was phenomenal. I was enchanted and enraptured. Her writing was transportive. You know when a book is described as having a ‘strong sense of place’? This book had that.

There were many characters with POV. And the chapters time-jumped a lot. Once again an unpopular opinion of mine is that I adore chapters that skip back and forth through time. Figuring things out and how all the characters fit into eachothers lives is one of the best things when reading!

This story does revolve around a challenge. Not the kind of challenge or magical duel readers (especially YA readers because let's be real, they are the majority of those reading this book) are used to. There is no blood and gore. In fact for most of the book the participants of this book didn't even know the exact rules of the challenge or who their opponent was or why there's even a challenge in the first place. This was a more subtle kind of duel. More like a show of talent in the arts of magic.

I've heard many great things about the audiobook of TNC and I'll probably listen to it next time I do a reread. But I suggest reading a physical copy (or e-book) when it's your first time. The chapters all start with a date and it can get confusing if you don't track the dates properly (side note: I annotated my copy and by the end there were so many sticky tabs 😂). And as I said before, the multiple POV might be hard to keep track of for some.

At the time I was reading The Night Circus there were some things happening in my personal life and I was not able to sit with this book and gobble it up like I wanted to. But everytime I opened it up I was immediately drawn in, through the pages and into Le Cirque des Rêves.

When I got to the final page I was very upset that The Night Circus is a work of fiction and I can't actually go there *weeps*.


Words cannot express what this book made me feel. The Night Circus filled me with an unnameable feeling. I wish I could experience this book for the first time again.

You think, as you walk away from Le Cirque des Rêves and into the creeping dawn, that you felt more awake within the confines of the circus.
You are no longer quite certain which side of the fence is the dream.

Buddy read with this beautiful person (who was patient with my slow reading 😅).
Profile Image for Federico DN.
397 reviews · 801 followers
June 23, 2022
A mesmerizing circus, two illusionists, and a deadly challenge.

The circus arrives without notice, one day in a city, one day on another. A unique circus, special, that only opens at night. A place where every tent hides a priceless marvel, unmatched performers and unforgettable acts that challenge reality. Le Cirque des Rêves. The place where the impossible is possible, where the unreal becomes real, and where the magic, is magic.

And in the middle, two illusionists trained from birth, matched in a deadly duel. They don't know each other, they don't know how the duel will play, nor when, but the destiny of each other and the circus itself, depending on the winner.

A highly enjoyable read, highly recommendable. Several moments to remember. Endearing characters not easily forgotten. Exquisitely written. One of those books you cannot put down because you are eager to know what's going to happen next. A little disappointed by its ending, by reasons I don't want to spoil, but still, a book that has more than rightfully earned a place in my favorites shelf.

[2011] [387p] [Fantasy] [Highly Recommendable] [Beautiful writing] [Poppet & Widget <3] [Kindhearted Celia] [Charming Marco]

Un circo fascinante, dos ilusionistas, y un duelo mortal.

El circo llega sin aviso, un día en una ciudad, un día en otra. Un circo único, especial, que sólo abre de noche. Un lugar donde cada carpa esconde una maravillla inapreciable, intérpretes inigualables y actos inolvidables que desafían la realidad. Le Cirque des Rêves. El lugar donde lo imposible es posible, donde lo irreal se vuelve real, y donde la magia, es magia.

Y en el medio, dos ilusionistas entrenados desde su nacimiento, enfrentados en un duelo mortal. No se conocen, no saben cómo es el duelo, ni cuando, pero el destino de ambos y el del circo dependerán del ganador.

Una lectura muy disfrutable, altamente recomendable. Numerosos momentos para el recuerdo. Personajes entrañables que no se olvidan. Deliciosamente escrito. Uno de esos libros que no podés parar de leer porque querés saber qué es lo que pasa después. Me decepcionó un poco el final, por razones que no quiero spoilear, pero igualmente, un libro que más que merecidamente ganó un lugar en mi estante de los más favoritos.

[2011] [387p] [Fantasía] [Altamente Recomendable] [Escritura Hermosa] [Poppet & Widget <3] [Amabilísima Celia] [Encantador Marco]
Profile Image for carol..
1,574 reviews · 8,231 followers
March 16, 2022
Sometimes I want chocolate. And sometimes I want the chocolate experience. I'm as guilty as the next person of the occasional vending machine pick-up for when I need those quick fixes. But then there's the slow anticipation. Take last week, for instance. It had been a few days since the last time. As I waited in line for my latte, my eyes happened to linger on a cute little cupcake, dark velvety goodness. Short, stacked, with a swirl of fluffy milk chocolate frosting. I resisted temptation, but the thought of chocolate lingered in my mind, and it was only a day or two before I found myself heading to my favorite chocolatier, craving the bittersweetness of an espresso-infused truffle. The overwhelming rich smell of cocoa as I opened the door. The charming smile of the clerk. The snap as my teeth bit through the dark chocolate coating, and the coffee-flavored richness of the silky ganache coating my tongue.

The Night Circus is achingly beautiful. I'll concur with the critics that it might not have much of a plot, but sometimes the point is the storytelling. Morgenstern's writing reminds me of In the Night Garden in it's deceptively simple storytelling, of Peter S. Beagle's melancholic and star-crossed lovers, and of Steven Millhauser's love of ornate visual details in a magical environment. It's lyrical and evocative. If you want hair-trigger, gun-slinging action, this is not the book for you. If you look for slow, winding beauty, the walk in the sun-filled garden and the sparkle of sunlight off ice-covered trees, this might be your book.

Cross posted at http://clsiewert.wordpress.com/2012/1...
Profile Image for Mwanamali.
372 reviews · 292 followers
August 19, 2023
The circus arrives without warning. No announcements precede it, no paper notices on downtown posts and billboards, no mentions or advertisements in local newspapers. It is simply there, when yesterday it was not.
The circus opens at nightfall and closes at dawn. A veritable exhibition of wonder and magic which muggles believe are just tricks of the eyes. One of my favourite characters, the man in the grey suit explains it best,
This is not magic. This is the way the world is, only very few people take time to stop and note it. Look around you… Not a one of them even has an inkling of the things that are possible in this world, and what’s worse is that none of them would listen if you attempted to enlighten them. They want to believe that magic is nothing but clever deception, because to think it real would keep them up at night, afraid of their own existence.
Guess what Alexander? Not all of us think so provincially of magic. I wish more than anything (except to get a good job perhaps) that magic exists. The life could be something infinitely more meaningful than traversing a daily slog of misery. This book, and plenty others, give a glimpse of what life would be like if we weren’t so tied down by the consequences of being human. I recall a moment when I was stuck in traffic, being burnt by the angry sun, listening to angry hoots, groaning truck engines, and it all just faded away as Morgenstern’s words spoke to me.

Every element of the circus blends together in a wonderful coalescence. Acts that have been training in separate countries on separate continents now perform in adjacent tents… Each costume, each gesture, each sign on each tent is more perfect than the last.
It’s easy to lose yourself in this world. To let go and remain unmoored and unguided as you go to each and every tent. But as you visit each tent you will realise there is a duel happening there. A dancing clash that you’re not privy to. Every display is a response to another. You can’t tell whether it’s a compliment or a one-upper. That is, until, you pay attention to the story.

I went into this book completely unaware of what it's about -as I would advise anyone who wants to read this to- but I paid attention to the hype. It always fascinates me when people love something so singlemindedly. That kind of untainted passion is always inspiring. It’s almost serendipitous how this magical book fell in my lap, after a friend so kindly bought it for me in South Africa because it’s not available in Kenya.

I completely understand- and unapologetically join the bandwagon around- the hype surrounding this book. It was also a surprise to Morgenstern. She told the New York Times, “I thought it was going to be a weird book that maybe a few weird people would like, and there were far more weird people than I expected".

Some people don’t seem to get the beauty behind the vaguely psychedelic language. NYT contributor Stacey D’erasmo thought the book lacked specificity. I completely disagreed. The book perfectly straddles the line between info dumping and show don’t tell. I felt like I was on a boat or a floating carriage ride and while I experienced everything the ride had to offer, I was left wanting more. Not because the story was unsatisfactory but because the story, like a theme pack ride, leaves you wanting to go again and again, begging your mum for just “five more minutes”, wishing that you could live there… but sadly, we are only human. And the only magic we can ever indulge in, resides in the limits of our imagination.

I can only hope that Morgenstern changes her mind and writes a sequel because hand to the ancestors, this is one of my absolute favourite books. Finishing it felt like parting with a dearly loved friend that I will never see again. I can only hope I am able to forget it then I can read it anew again. But that's impossible as it is one of the most delightfully unforgettable books I've ever had the fortune of reading.
4 reviews · 5 followers
August 26, 2012
This book had so much potential.

The world that Morgenstern created is so exquisite that it should have been easy for her to spin a good story. The Night Circus could have been a story of intrigue and manipulation. It could have been a heartfelt romance. If Moregenstern wanted to, The Night Circus could even have been a coming of age story with a thoughtful message about growing up and the choices we make.

Instead, the final product is a badly written soap opera. The main characters, Marco and Celia, were very hard to like. They were supposed to be adults, but I personally felt as if they had the emotional maturity of pre-teens. For example, after one of Celia's friends dies, she goes to Marco for comfort. While crying in his chest, Celia says that this character had often written letters to her. This is what Marco says: "I would have written to you as well if I could. A sea of ink is not sufficient to describe my feelings for you." This then turns into an entire conversation where they sap about how much they love each other. Mind you, the friend had been dead for less than a few hours. That's alright though, his death was clearly not as important as their love.

Speaking of their love, it was melodramatic and unrealistic. Marco is enchanted with how beautiful Celia is. Celia plays hard to get, but after one evening in which they have a stale, uninteresting conversation, they are suddenly madly in love. In one scene, Marco held Celia's hand, and the mere touch of his skin on hers had her gasping for breath. Honestly? In another, he grabs her and kisses her in front of a ballroom, and the chandeliers tremble. Every interaction basically involves them either being used a plot vehicles to explain things to the reader, or was an excuse for them to state their love. Over and over and over again. Each time in a more melodramatic way than the last. Never mind that nothing happens for them that actually would cause them to fall in love. Finally, just to drive my point home, here is an actual line from Marco: "I would rather die by her side than live without her!"


Even when their interactions could have been meaningful, one or the other finds a way to devalue the entire scene. At one point in the book, Celia is complaining about the emotional toll that this competition is having on her. Marco offers to go to his mentor and have Celia declared a winner. Hey! Problem solved! (Well, not really, but neither of the characters know that yet)What does Celia do when she is given an answer to every one of her problems? She decides that it is much too tiring to talk about. So instead making an honest effort to figure out their problems together, she enchants him so that he can't speak, complains more about the emotional toll that this competition is having on her, and then has emotional sex with him.

It was such a pity that Morgenstern chose such god awful characters to be the focus of the book. She had so many characters at her disposal who were much more likable and three dimensional. I would have loved the book if it had been about Chandresh and his pride, and how Marco and A.H manipulated that to their ends. Or if it had focused on Prospero and Mr. A.H as they dueled with their ideologies. Though the Burgess sisters were minor characters, their slow realization that something wasn't right with the circus could have made for an interesting main plot. Even if the story was about Bailey, it could have been sweet and adorable. Out of all the potential characters and stories she had, Morgenstern chose the worst, and magnified them up to 1000.

Besides the characters, this reader also had problems with the plot, namely that fact it was vague and riddled with loopholes. The reader is never quite shown how the magic in the book works, or even how the competition itself works. Without this understanding, it was hard to know why Celia and Marco did what they did, because there were a million other things that they could have done that would have made more sense. Lucy's review provides one glaring example. In addition, the plot itself moves dreadfully slow. It takes 16 years for something to actually happen, and Morgenstern tries to distract the reader from that by filling the pages with pretty imagery and tone.

In short, what could have been a fantastic story was ruined by lazy plotting and dreadful characters. Morgenstern should consider a career in art directing-she can create beautiful images and obviously has a vivid imagination, but she cannot create any substance behind her images.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Will Byrnes.
1,310 reviews · 120k followers
October 22, 2020
I have read and enjoyed all the Harry Potter books. In a way, I consider them my friends. The Night Circus is no Harry Potter, despite the marketing dreams of Doubleday management.

It is a fantastical battle/love story, set at the turn of the 20th century, that summons the imagery and characterizations of Shakespeare’s The Tempest. The primary thrust here is the battle. Two children are chosen as stand-ins for an ages-old competition between two mysterious and seemingly immortal wizard-types. One might see in this a contemporary commentary on the history of civilization sending young people off to die for foolish reasons. But I do not really think that was the intent. The two are Marco, plucked from an orphanage by the grey-suited man (I found myself always thinking The Man With the Yellow Hat for some reason) and Celia, the daughter of a magician stage-named Prospero. If that sounds a bit familiar it is because, in The Tempest, Prospero is the main character. Our version seems to feel a compulsion to call his daughter, Celia, by the name Miranda, the name of Prospero’s daughter in the elder work, but she resists. We must presume the author is winking and nodding and urging us to brush up our Shakespeare.

Erin Morgenstern - image from NPR

Our Prospero, off-stage-named Hector Bowen, and the never fully-named grey-suited character have staged this contest many times before. These two think little of manipulating actual people for their dubious pleasures. The venue is to be the circus, and the rules are inscrutable. The two children are trained in the magic arts by their respective elders for their entire youth, preparing them for a competition to prove whose pet is superior. They eventually meet and fall in love, of course, which complicates things. Overall, I thought this was a pretty nifty notion. I only wish Morgenstern had paid more attention to the romance between these two and was less enamored of her own compulsion to engage in feats of literary legerdemain. I found her scenes with the two very effective.

The book is rife with descriptive smoke and mirrors, a bit too much so. OK, way too much so. I cannot recall reading a book that paid quite so much obvious attention to its color palette. I know that might make it sound pretentious, but I think that works rather well here, to a point. I was reminded of the Langella Dracula production on Broadway more than a few years back. The entire stage was monochromatic, which made the red flower sitting in a vase stand out like a beacon. Ditto here. With everything portrayed in black, white, and shades between, whenever color emerges it catches the eye. It is not too hard to find the place from which this emanates.
In an interview at Comic-Con in San Diego…Morgenstern, 33, who also is a painter, told USA TODAY that before she ever had characters, she visualized the colorful performers and contrasting black and white tones of the tents and circus setting.
"I paint very messy. I throw paint around," says Morgenstern, who now lives in Boston. "So when I let myself do the same sort of thing with my writing, and I would just write and write and write and revise, that's when I found my rhythm in writing." (http://www.usatoday.com/life/books/ne...)
What is the coloring supposed to indicate? What is she saying here? I do not know, but it does stand out. And that is an indicator of a potential problem. If there is a technique being used so loudly that serves little clear purpose, then why is it being used?

A Tarot motif also figures throughout, so those of you who are not seers or special readers, start your search engines to suss out what each of the many mentioned cards might portend. And set your search for the Marseilles deck. Morgenstern uses her tarot references to add info about her characters, and a tarot-reading seer to grease those wheels. This one is a knight. That one is a magician. Usually the references are pretty obvious, so, ultimately, with an exception here or there, the cards as indicators of character do not really add much. And raise your hands, anyone who thinks a seer might overlook something close to home.

Dreams figure large – the gigantic clock commissioned for the circus is named Wunschtraum which translates from the German to “Pipe Dream.” The proper name of the circus, Le Cirques de Reve, translates to the “Circus of Dreams” and followers of the circus are called reveurs, or dreamers. There is a host of other references to and uses of the dreaming motif but I will not list them all here.

Some of Morgenstern’s subsidiary characters were fun. The Murray twins, red-haired (Weasleyan?) spawn of big-cat tamers are fun, both possessed with powers, and both performers who, charmingly, use kittens in their act. How could you not love characters named Widget and Poppett? Poppet in particular gets a bit more stage time, and should have gotten even more.

A young man named Bailey (I couldn't decide if this was more for the reference to Barnum and Bailey or to George Bailey, as this pure-hearted lad was living a dull life and yearned for more) is engaging and gives us another character to root for. But again, not nearly enough time is given him.

The two wizards remain mostly discorporate. Celia’s father is actively seeking a way out of the material world, and the man in the grey suit maintains his cipher-hood throughout. They sneak and lurk a lot but rarely seem to do any actual harm, with one obvious exception involving a knife.

Morgenstern was clearly so in love with all her magic tricks that she lost focus. What is it that engages readers, makes us care? It is characters. We can certainly enjoy and appreciate beautiful descriptions and thrill at the qualities with which she imbues her world. There is a huge amount of creativity on display here. Lots of smoke and mirrors (literally), lots of bright lights, misdirections, shiny objects, many pretty pictures, and a cauldron-full of magic. I am sure that in the right hands, when this is made into a major motion picture (rights have already been bought) there will be Oscar opportunities aplenty for art directors, costume and makeup designers, and special effects pros. But I felt that there was twenty pounds of sizzle here for a two ounce steak. The emphasis was all on the tricks, the cleverness, the magic, and not nearly enough on the core love story. Morgenstern clearly can make her characters breathe. She does that here, but too infrequently to keep us from getting distracted by the sparkly things. I had the impression that she was intent on throwing into her brew-pot every idea that she could get away with. For example, it wasn't enough for her to hew to her core Tempest imagery with the captured-in-a-tree piece, which certainly works in the story. She felt a need to embellish by dragging Merlin in as well. Please, enough already. We got the picture. You do not have to color it in for us.

Pick your motifs, Tarot, Tempest, rings, color scheme, tree/vine imagery, time, star-crossed love, mirrors, books and reading. Go ahead, follow one, two, three, four, five. In moderation there is so much here to like, but in excess it overwhelms and detracts. Save a few tricks for the next volume, if there is to be one. Rowling paced herself and offered a useful model to follow. Morgenstern, as she does with paint, also does with words. She throws lots of stuff up there and then revises and revises. She reports that she had to do a lot of revision on this book, which makes me wonder what this looked like when it was first submitted. That it emerged in all its finery, but lacking sufficient attention to the characters represents, I expect, a problem with editing. Couldn't someone have told Erin, hey, tone back the jazz and focus on the tune? Or maybe someone did and she did not comply. Can’t say. Don’t know.

There was a chapter near the end, Stories, which was so cloying and pretentious that it was gag-inducing. Not a great way to head towards the finish line.

I know the overall timbre of this review is critical. But I need to add in here that The Night Circus remains an engaging, interesting read, and I enjoyed it. My gripe is that it could have been sooooo much better with a good spell of discipline. Still this is an impressive first novel. Maybe in her next work, the bubbling talent on display here can be harnessed to concoct a more effective, more focused book. A guy can dream.


I take issue with the book’s cover design, which makes it appear that the circus is a toy in the hand of a particular significant character. This is not the case. The circus venue is agreed to by the two god-like characters, and it is kept magical by a host of contributors. No single hand controls all, as the cover suggests. The UK cover uses the same black and white scheme, but eschews the single hand for silhouettes of Marco and Celia. The ARE version was better still, simplifying even more.

=============================EXTRA STUFF

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Profile Image for Mikee (ReadWithMikee).
203 reviews · 1,312 followers
June 12, 2019

❝When the final bulb pops alight, and the smoke and sparks dissipate, it is finally legible, this elaborate incandescent sign. Leaning to your left to gain a better view, you can see that it reads:

Le Cirque des Rêves

Some in the crowd smile knowingly, while other frown and look questioningly at their neighbors. A child near you tugs on her mother's sleeve, begging to know what it says.

'The Circus of Dreams,' comes the reply.❞

The Night Circus was one of my favorite books of all time when it first came out during my teen years. I didn't understand everything that happened in the story but it still remained one of my favorite, if not my favorite, books of all time.

After reviewing books for a year now, I decided to pick up The Night Circus once again after reading and hearing about several other books that closely resembled the premise of this book, but were never able to top the enigma that is The Night Circus. I wanted to see this book in a new light, from a reviewer's point of view, and see if this book is truly the greatness I once remembered as a teen.

And now, I've come to the conclusion that no matter how young or old I am, The Night Circus will always be my favorite book of all time. I could read it five times or a hundred times or how many more times after that and I will never be able to bring myself to grow tired of this book. Just the whole premise of the Circus, the characters, the illusions, the romance, the mystery... It all just takes my breath away. I have never read a book that's ever impacted me this way or stuck to me no matter the years that pass. I know that some readers don't fancy circuses as much as I do, and that's understandable. I've always had a soft spot for circuses and The Night Circus has sastisfied and brought to life the circus that I've only seen in my imagination.

I only had two complaints while reading this book. One of those complaints was the slow pacing. I remember distinctly the first couple times I've read the book and skimmed through so many chapters because I was just so eager to get the ball rolling. I wanted to skip past Bailey's chapters, Friedrick Thiessan's chapters, and a few more chapters that slowed the book down in the middle. I still found myself wanting to do that now as I read the story this time around. But unfortunately, no matter how much I wanted to skip those parts, every chapter and page is a puzzle piece that connects the whole storyline together.

Secondly, the Circus and the magic itself were so elaborate and unlike anything you've ever seen before that sometimes the imagery became a bit difficult to envision. There were so many beautiful tents and illusions but I just couldn't bring myself to visualize them because my imagination simply just couldn't reach those lengths. I give praise to Erin Morgenstern's writing and imagination for creating these beautiful enchantments that goes beyond our wildest dreams. I've been stumped at certain descriptions before but not like this! Though it may prove to be a little problematic for people who love to visualize certain details, I think it adds to the mystery and the character of the Circus.

One of the aspects that put the cherry on top for me was the romance between Celia and Marco. The romance in The Night Circus may come off as instalovey for some and if it were any another book, I'd probably say the same, but it does not bother me one bit here. Although our characters only interact for a few chapters until they officially "fall in love", it feels as though that love has always been there from the very first pages when they were sealed and bound to one another at a young age. In fact, Marco and Celia have been separated for most of the book, with subtle hints of dancing around one another for years that when they do finally happen, you can't help but root for them like crazy and hope they have the happily ever after that they so desperately deserved.

The Night Circus was absolutely captivating, outstanding, and just pure enchanting. Though this book does have its flaws, Erin Morgenstern's writing has a way of luring and hooking you into her story, and just whisks you away through a mysterious, magical labyrinth that is The Night Circus. This book will always be near and dear to my heart and has impacted me in ways I never knew it could. Of all the books I've read so far in my life, The Night Circus is, and probably always will be, a book that I'll always remember.
Profile Image for Sunny.
277 reviews · 254 followers
July 15, 2018

You know when you start reading a book, and the writing is so fucking magical, and you feel like you're in a fairy tale because the author's sentences flow like flower petals in the wind, and then you keep on reading and reading, and the writing in still fucking magical, but also...nothing has really happened, and then you're at the end of the book where the writing is still so fucking magical...but STILL...NOTHING HAPPENED.

Yeah, that was this book.
Profile Image for Jasmine from How Useful It Is.
1,339 reviews · 350 followers
September 29, 2018
I started reading The Night Circus on 8/15/17 and finished it on 8/21/17. This is my second time reading this book. It is an amazing read. The writing is so magical. I can’t read any other circus books without thinking of The Night Circus. I feel offended when I read The Nowhere Emporium and saw how the author copy almost every idea off of this book. I can’t read Caraval without putting it on hold to read this book again. The way Erin Morgenstern describe the circus is magnificent. The world building and the story is as smooth as pearls. I can’t get enough of this story and the author’s writing!

This book started out in the present day when The Circus of Dreams arrived without warning. This circus only opens at night which makes people in town wonder why. As soon as the doors open, everyone gasps in amazement. The story then go back to 1873 to introduce Celia Bowen, daughter of Hector Bowen (aka Prospero the Enchanter), a magician. The magician likes what he saw in Celia after their sudden meeting and went to contact the man in the grey suit (aka Alexander H.). They meet where they discuss a challenge that will take place in the future, Celia Bowen versus Marco Alisdair, a boy the man in the grey suit found at an orphanage. Many years passed by while Celia and Marco trained, separately and differently, not knowing each other or much info of the game. It’s important to pay attention to the date at the beginning of each chapter because it goes back to how the circus started to the present day where readers attend the circus to somewhere in the future where Bailey is predicted to be involved in the circus. There is a lot involved in this book and many characters to know. All of the characters are likable, from main to supporting. This book is told in the third person point of view with many angle views to an event.

This book is impeccably written. I love reading it so much and I don’t ever want it to end. I wish there was an epilogue in this book that will give me a glimpse to what the future brings for the characters, especially Poppet and Bailey. I know it’s left for the individual readers’ interpretation but I personally want the author to conclude it for me. I love the design of the game. It’s vague to start out with but fall into place in the end. The writing in this book is addictive. My attention was on this book all the time. I really like Celia because she does awesome magic. I also like Poppy and Widget, especially Widget’s bottles and stories. Marco’s magic is cool too because I can’t imagine how much he can do just by reading a lot of books. This book is full of suspense and can be summarized as a love story. I highly recommend everyone to read this book! Reading the second time is definitely better than the first!

Pro: awesome cover, beautifully narrated, unique characters, magic, suspense, couldn’t put down, fast pace, page turner, a love story

Con: none

I rate it 5 stars!

***Disclaimer: I borrowed this book from the library and my opinions are honest.

Jasmine at www.howusefulitis.wordpress.com for a detailed review
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