The Night Circus has been my favourite book since I discovered it while helping a coworker reset the books & magazine section at the grocery store that occupied the early half of my twenties. I own two print copies plus the ebook, and I’ve read each copy at least once for a total of at least 5 or 6 before the reading I have just completed. This book has been my comfort read and my example of perfectly poetic prose for over a decade, and now that I’ve been reviewing every book I read since spring of last year, it was high time that I sit back down with this one and give it a proper review.
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About the Book
The Night Circus
by Erin Morgenstern
Published 13 Septemer 2011
Genre: Historical Fantasy, Magical Realism
Page Count: 391
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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.
My Rating: 5 Stars
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I borrowed the audiobook through Libby for the first time for this reading, and I will make specific comments on the narration/performance at the end, but please be advised that the bulk of this review applies to everything that is the novel known as The Night Circus and not specifically to the audio file.
When people ask me what The Night Circus is about, I’ll frequently say (let’s be honest, type) something like this: It’s about forbidden love and a compellingly magical circus. The prose is exquisite, the magic is intricate and beautiful, and the circus is electrically ethereal. The plot moves slowly and although the stakes are as high as stakes can be they’re understated and secret, so this is not a book for readers who need big, loud plot events every 50 pages or so. It is, however, the ideal book for readers who fall in love with characters and want to spend time with them, and for readers who love a compelling setting that is in and of itself a key character.
This is the sort of book that gives you a book hangover, if you’ll let it, and usually, I do. (Alas, this time I can’t.) The story ended right where it needed to but you’re not ready to leave let and you want another 50 pages at the very least. You have become the reveur to whom the second-person interludes are written and you’re just waiting for tomorrow’s nightfall so that you can come back to the circus.
The Night Circus is mostly written in the third person, in mixed tense depending on which POV and time is being covered, but as mentioned above there are interludes written in the second person as the narrator describes your night exploring Le circus de rêves. None of the other chapters or passages dive quite so deeply into any other character’s mind, but the narrator has access to Celia, Marco, Bailey, Isabelle, Poppet & Widget, and just about everyone else involved in making the circus a reality (though Tsukiko is quite adept at keeping her thoughts private.)
Two rival magicians who are much older than they appear have been training students to bind to contests of methodology for, well, no one really remembers how long. Celia and Marco are the latest students, they’re ready to start their game, and the circus is the venue. Neither is meant to know who their opponent is nor has either been explicitly told how and when the game ends. Isabelle is the tarot reading fortune teller who thinks Marco loves her. Poppet & Widget are the red-haired twins of unusual talents who were born at midnight on the circus’ very first opening. Bailey is a young patron who has befriended Poppet & Widget and wants nothing more than to spend every night with his mysterious friends at the circus that calls him.
Without spoiling anything, all I can say is that everything and nothing works out, everything goes wrong yet everything is as it should be, and although this book will break your heart it will also fill it to bursting.
“We lead strange lives, chasing our dreams around from place to place.”
My rating for the book is and always has been a full, glowing 5 out of 5 stars.
As for the audiobook narrator performance, I would actually be tempted to knock off half a star if not a whole one. The narrator is skilled and I would love to listen to more works read by him -and if fact I’d particularly love to hear him narrate books from The Elemental Masters series by Mercedes Lackey- but I didn’t like the choice of this particular narrator for this particular book. The Night Circus has always felt like it needs a soft, ethereal, female voice to me. This narrator’s voice, though pleasant and vaguely British, is deep and very masculine. More specifically than that, I don’t like the voices he put on for Marco, Poppet or Widget. While most of the characters are narrated with the same voice as the background narrative voice and the second-person POV interludes, Marco is given the raspy voice of an older man even though we meet him first as a teenager, and at the time that everyone in the circus stops ageing, he’s only in his twenties. As for Poppet & Widget, I’m very irritated with their Irish accents. It’s not the fact that Irish accents are present, I love an Irish accent, but I don’t believe their nationality is ever mentioned. This is playing off the fact that they’re redheads and nothing more. This pair of kids grew up in a circus where no one save for possibly their own parents speaks with an Irish accent, so I refuse to believe that they themselves would reach their teenage years speaking only and completely in an Irish accent and not something more like the fairly neutral accent all the other characters are read with. These complaints aren’t big ones, and I suspect that someone listening to this audiobook performance as their first read-through The Night Circus won’t find any faults at all. As someone who has read the book for myself 5 or 6 times before listening to the audiobook, my immediate reaction upon hearing the narrator was disappointment that the voice didn’t match what I had always heard in my head.
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