Book Review: The Night Circus Forced this Book Snob to Change Her Mind about Circuses (and Other Things)

The Night CircusAuthor: Erin Morgenstern

“This is the precise flavor that the circus should be. Unusual yet beautiful. Provocative while remaining elegant.”

If you fancy sprawling fairy tales set in Victorian England, this is the book for you.

Le Cirque des Reves is a mysterious circus, appearing suddenly overnight and open only after dark. The circus features a stunning array of tents—an Ice Garden, a Wishing Tree—and the expected array of acrobats, contortionists and fortune tellers. The entire circus is black and white and its devoted fans identify themselves by wearing a red scarf.

The Night Circus revolves around two dueling magicians, Marco and Celia. Their guardians bind them into a fierce contest when they are only children, and the pair only fully realize the parameters of the competition and its consequences towards the end. Despite knowing they are adversaries, they fall in love, threatening the existence of the circus and everyone associated with it.

In Massachusetts, a young man named Bailey becomes enamored of the circus and dreams of leaving his family behind to follow it around. Unbeknownst to him, he is the key to circus’s survival. In the end, the two threads converge as Bailey takes over the responsibility of running the circus.

I have a confession to make: I’m a bit of a book snob. And I hate circuses. I shouldn’t like this book—and yet, I loved it. I found it enchanting. The Night Circus is a book to get lost in, and there are few things I love more than that. Morgenstern’s descriptions of the tents are intensely visual: they dazzle. Even the physical book is beautiful—it is one you can actually judge by its cover. A lot of thought went into this book, from the story to the cover design, and it shows.

I particularly liked how Morgenstern treats the illusions and magic as real—her universe has its own set of rules and is therefore logical. Despite the fantastical subject matter, Morgenstern’s writing is quite straightforward and direct, a nice contrast that keeps the book from being too cloying.

However, that style also kept me from getting into the story at first because it comes off a bit detached. But eventually I became completely wrapped up in it, engrossed by the vivid details of the circus and its performers.

The book could use a bit of editing to lend urgency to the story but the pace didn’t really bother me; I was too absorbed to notice until after I’d finished it. Morgenstern spends a little too much time describing the various tents and acts of the circus at the expense of characterization. She created a lot of potentially interesting characters, and I would’ve liked to see their relationships with each other fleshed out a bit more.

I found the competition between Marco and Celia less interesting than the circus itself, and I would have liked her to delve deeper into the relationship between the illusionists and their guardians. Morgenstern hints at some dark stuff, but largely avoids exploring it.


That being said, The Night Circus is an impressive debut. Erin Morgenstern is a promising writer and I am very much looking forward to seeing what she comes up with next. The Night Circus is not a masterpiece or a life changing book, but it will immerse you in an extraordinary world – and sometimes that’s all you need.

Recommendation: Read it (and buy a red scarf).