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I recently mentioned that I hadn't read a book in a long time that really knocked my socks off, and two separate people mentioned Erin Morgenstern's "The Night Circus" as a book that had knocked their socks off. The name sounded familiar, too (although I don't know from where), so I decided to pick it up.
The premise is that a boy, Marco, and a girl, Celia, who can practice magic in a world that doesn't believe in magic, are pitted against each other by their mentors in a competition. The grounds for this competition are a mysterious traveling circus that is only open at night.
It's definitely a sensory experience. From detailed descriptions of smells, sounds, and tastes, to vivid imagery of color, shape, and light, you can tell that the author was picturing these things in her mind while she wrote. I would definitely describe it as "cinematic" — and, as luck would have it, Summit Entertainment has optioned the book's film rights and apparently the film is in pre-production, so we'll likely be able to hold up the book's descriptions to some actual images in a few years' time.
I had some trouble identifying with the characters, I think most likely because of the author's frustrating tendency to be coy, refusing to tell us information that the character whose perspective we're in would easily know. For example, there are a few scenes where a character pulls a tarot card out of the deck and notes what card it is, or even in some circumstances just the imagery on the card. The character knows what the card means, but the reader doesn't (unless you're very familiar with tarot—I have a passing familiarity, and although I recognized the french word for "The Magician," I didn't recognize the card "Judgement" from the mention of the image of an angel.) It's a cheap way to build mystery, in my opinion, because if I'm curious, I can just Google what that tarot card is (and I did, I assure you.)
This whole "coyness" isolates the reader from the characters by making us feel almost like they're keeping secrets from us. The point of having perspective characters is so that we can see through that character's eyes, feel what they feel, identify with them, know what they know. When we are treated almost as if we aren't smart enough to figure out what the author is telling us, it alienates us rather than draws us in, I think.
The ending was extremely convenient, unfortunately. The final "solution" became fairly obvious once the author started building in hints to it. It could've used a subtler and more consistent build-up — the clues to the possibility of this particular solution didn't start until about halfway through the book, and once they did start, it was extremely conspicuous.
Overall, I found the book entertaining and intriguing from the very start, and I thoroughly enjoyed reading it. There were technical issues with plot and character development that could easily drive some readers away, but the concepts and images were so passionately rendered that I was immediately endeared to the book. I definitely think it's worth a read: it's short, it's interesting, and it's something new and different (at least in the sea of YA dystopian "young rebel" fic I've been drowning in lately.)
My final verdict: I recommend it.
Have you read The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern? What did you think? Tell me in the comments!