This is a book that has been on a ton of READ THESE BOOKS OR DIE! lists since it was published last year. I kept flipping through when I saw it in the store and added it to my TBR list, but for whatever reason, I didn’t pick it up. Since the paperback was recently released, my book group decided it would be a good choice for October, so here we are.
There have been many reviews of The Night Circus in this and last year’s CBR. Several friends gave it five star reviews and have added it to their lists of favorites. I liked it a lot, but don’t have the passionate love that they do.
It’s a fairly simple plot, which I like because then the details can get insane. Two magicians have been dueling for ages, only they never go after each other directly, each choosing a student to fight for them instead. Prospero the Enchanter is delighted that he has found a winning player when his five year old daughter is delivered to him. Testing her skills he knows that she will be able to destroy anything Mr. A.H. can find. The two agree to the same rules, although Mr. H. does pause and ask Prospero if he is sure he wants to bet his own daughter. The pact is made and the game begins when Mr. A.H. plucks an orphan from obscurity and surrounds him with books to prepare him for the challenge.
Celia and Marco are doomed without knowing what has happened.
The two magicians leave much of the competition to fate. They do not know how the game will be played, when it will start, or even what it will look like. Years pass and the two students train constantly, even though they don’t know each other, don’t know the rules, and don’t know how the game is played. All they know is that they will compete and one must win.
Fate chooses the game to be held as a circus. Chandresh Christophe Lefevre is chosen by Prospero to bring Celia and Marco together. Chandresh doesn’t know what’s happening, only that he wants to create an amazing circus, something no one has ever seen before.
Almost without realizing it, Celia and Marco begin the challenge within the circus itself.
Things get very confusing at this point, but it works because Celia and Marco don’t know what’s going on. Marco isn’t able to travel with the circus and had to bind himself to it on opening day so he can keep track of Celia. Celia doesn’t realize that Marco is her competition for some time, but knows that she must keep growing the circus from within. She uses her magic to create amazement for the visitors. They are enthralled with the tents, the food, the music, and the performers and are swept up in the fantasy. No one ever pushes themselves to look for the wires and strings that must be holding everything together. They simply smile and enjoy the magic, not realizing that it actually is magic.
It was obvious early on that Celia and Marco would fall in love, and of course they do, and of course this causes problems. They still don’t know how the game ends. If they try to quit or walk away, they can’t. So, they keep creating magic and pushing themselves to strengthen their skills and create new levels of magic. Their respect for each other pushes them to create more and more powerful pieces and it seems that neither will win.
Eventually things are built too high and begin to crumble. Marco realizes he made an unforgivable mistake when he bound the circus. Chandresh and the other architects begin to push against the magic, not realizing what is happening. Celia slowly begins to understand the rules and doesn’t know what will happen to the circus performers once the competition is won. They have become her family and she is terrified to hurt them, but knows she cannot walk away.
For me, the strongest aspect of this book was the supporting characters. At times Celia and Marco’s story doesn’t feel like the main one, even though everything revolves around the two. We have moments from other POVs and get to see the circus in very different way. I wanted to know what the sacrifice was going to be and where it was going to touch. No one was safe and I quickly sped through the last part to find out how it would end. These characters played wonderfully against Celia and Marco because there was so much love and friendship. Neither of them was raised with kindness, yet they responded to it and wanted to protect the others even if it meant losing the game.
I also enjoyed the pacing of the book because time felt fluid. It was confusing at times to flip back and forth between the chapter headers to see when you were and what had already happened or hadn’t happened. Thing slowed down a lot in the middle, but this worked for me because I felt like Celia and Marco were in a holding pattern. They knew what they had to do, but not how to do it. Or where. Or when. Or to whom. When things started revealing themselves, the book began to pick up speed and fly to the end.
I was pleased with the ending of this book because a choice had to be made. Neither could walk away and someone had to win. The way they created the circus meant that it couldn’t continue forever, no matter how powerful their magic was, together or as individuals.
I wish the Night Circus was real. Not so much the part with the cruel competition, but I want there to be a place where everyone believes in magic and pauses for a moment to watch it happen all around them.