The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern
I found this title as a recommended book on the nook app many years ago. Something about it just looked interesting to me. Maybe it was the name or the striking cover, but I just had to look at it. My interest only increased once I read the blurb on the plot. I had to have it, so I downloaded the free sample. I didn't know the author and this was different from the books I was reading at the time. I wasn't even looking for a new book to read when I found it.
I'll tell you now; this is one of my most favorite books and I read it more than once at this point. I wanted to talk about this book earlier, but I decided to save it for now because this is the perfect book to read for Halloween! I'll explain to you why in a bit, but back to the story...
I read the sample chapters in just a few days and I was blown away from the couch and into her circus. As soon as I opened it up, Morgenstern's unique style stood out from everything I have ever read before, and that's saying something! On the first page, a second-perspective greeted me, which is not only unusual for writing but often avoided for a good reason. While first-person is the narrator speaking and third-person is an all-knowing narrator, second-person is when the writer is narrating you as the character. Since people are different and make different choices, it's hard and can be controlling or unsettling to have the reader in the scene of the story.
But Morgenstern's choice made the circus come to life.
In the falling dusk, you are standing in line for a ticket to the circus. Yes, you! Morgenstern manipulates the senses with caramel apples, excited crowds, and chills of an Autumn night. This is perfect because of the setting. By the time you pick up a book expecting a story revolving around the night circus, she throws you in for the fun!
Anyway, rant over. I'll continue with the plot now.
This book does have characters in it and is narrated in third-person. Her story with the reader comes back after every act, and while these are my most favorite portions of the book, I don't want to undersell the beautiful story. It's a love story around our two main characters actually. Celia is a young girl who arrives at her father's doorstep after her mother passed away. Unfortunately, her father is none other than the famous magician, Prospero, and she is only a living game piece to her. He meets with the mysterious Mr. A.H- and enters her in a contest outside her will. The two magicians are rivals and want to test their trained contestants on a stage to see which is better. A magical ring ties Celia as Prospero's apprentice while Mr. A.H- goes off to find his own. As Prospero teaches Celia complex magic, Mr. A.H- retrieves a boy from an orphanage, named Marco, and teaches him illusion magic.
The stage, as you might have guessed, is the circus itself. The night circus is a mysterious traveling circus that always arrives without a schedule or warning, and it's only open at night. It's a magic land filled with mazes made of clouds, acrobats without nets, gardens made completely out of ice, and a memory room with senses trapped in bottles. There's a different tent for a different exhibit, which means a lot of outside places to explore. There are food stalls, slowly moving, living statutes, and a cauldron in the center of the circus burning a magical flame that's been burning since the opening day. The tents are all black-and-white. The blend of red associated with the circus's grey-scale theme is from the dedicated fans of the circus, known as rêveurs. The rêveurs follow the circus across the world and recognize others by their single red article in their black-and-white clothing.
My favorite is the cloud maze. Even though I'm a terrible climber, I'm not terrified of heights. I love the feeling of being high up in the air. The cloud maze is exactly what it sounds, but it also has a lot of crawling and climbing in it. If you fall for any reason, clouds at the bottom will catch you. That's the best part of this maze. Participants try to climb all the way to the top and then jump off to land on the bouncy soft clouds below. I still may not be all the good at reaching the top, but I definitely want to do this.
The story takes place in the modern world set in the 1800th century. The magic of the circus is deemed as mysterious or clever, while real magic is actually what runs it, and the characters add exhibits to the circus as they see fit, which makes each tent a piece of the characters' soul.
Once Celia and Marco grow up, they wind up with the circus together. These two are opponents in a contest with no clear goal. Their mentors want them to continue to butt heads, but don't tell them how to "win." Instead, the two fall in love and wish to run the circus together, but the mentors continue to threaten them based on how much times go on. Understandably, neither one wants the contest to continue, but they can't forfeit either because of the rings that tie them to the game.
In an attempt to end the game, the two try to find a safe way out of it or let it go on forever. Then, weird things began to happen to the circus. The people involved with the circus can't quit their roles in it and have stopped aging. When Celia and Marcos learn the background of the circus, people begin to die and evidence disappears.
I don't need to spoil much more of the book, but I do want to mention the very end because it was just as awe-inspiring as the beginning was. So, if you want to read this book yourself, (and I highly recommend it!) you may want to leave here.
So well into the book, we're introduced to Bailey. He's a young dreamer and his fate is tied to the circus after the first time he visits it. He loves the circus and seeks in once on a dare. After he meets Poppet, a girl born in the circus on opening day, he becomes obsessed with the circus and joins some rêveurs to find it again.
The contortionist, Tsukiko, tries to end the contest between Marco and Celia by magically killing him. He agrees with her decision and Celia barges in on them after she casts the spell. She grabs onto Marco and tries to pull him back. Marco doesn't die, but Celia tugs them in-between worlds. This leaves them in a ghost-like state. They're unable to look after the circus which begins to fall apart because there's no one tied to it anymore, but this also leaves the contest without a winner as they're both unable to continue to play its games.
For the sake of the circus, someone has to be tied to it. Celia and Marco found a way to escape the terrible game they were forced to enter when they were young, but the circus is precious to them both. They find Bailey and ask him to take their place and run the circus, and he's happy to take it.
Remember those second-person parts between acts? Those are in the present. Not only is the circus still going, but the reader runs into the owner before they leave. It's none other than Bailey. The magic of the circus is still going strong and he's taken great care of it for centuries. There just couldn't be a better ending. It's a beautifully unique book. Morgenstern captivated me with her otherworldly writing and kept me all the way to the end. I would highly recommend anyone to read it throughout the year, but it certainly makes for the perfect October book. It's rich in that crisp Autumn/carnival air. You won't regret picking this one up, I promise!