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Fantastical circus

January 24, 2012

“The night circus” by Erin Morgenstern

2012 Alex Award Winner

Review by Jillian Quint

Fans of J.K. Rowling, Susanna Clarke and all forms of magical realism—rejoice. Erin Morgenstern’s long-awaited and much buzzed-about debut The Night Circus has all the makings of a historical-fantasy-for-adults hit: chronologically complicated and interweaving plotlines, wide-eyed descriptions of ever-changing labyrinths, a turn-of-the-20th-century European setting and a forbidden love practically swelling with Hollywood appeal. (Indeed, a Harry Potter producer has already snapped up film rights.) But perhaps most importantly, it creates a fantastical world so fully imagined and captivating, one cannot help but be swept along for the ride.

The story begins when Celia, a five-year-old with an already keen supernatural power, goes to live with her father, Prospero the Enchanter, a magician and key member of the world’s oddest, most awe-inspiring traveling circus: Le Cirque des Rêves. Sensing his daughter’s untapped power, Prospero pits Celia against another magician in a years-long (and exceedingly dangerous) battle of skill. Her opponent is Marco, a budding magician who begins studying the circus in order to learn his rival’s ways. But what neither he nor Celia anticipates is how much they will grow to like, and eventually love, one another—launching the novel into an age-old tale of star-crossed romance.

Intertwined with the lovers’ narrative are stories of other circus fans and workers—among them Friedrick Thiessen, Le Cirque des Rêves’ most enthusiastic scholar; Isobel, driven by unrequited love for Marco; and Bailey, a farm boy with a wanderlust who observes one magical performance and embarks upon a lifetime obsession.

This first-time novelist is heavy on description, and readers may find themselves skimming details about vanishing  contortionists and mystical rainstorms to get back to the actual plot and characters. But she is also dogged in her pursuit of epic love and tragedy.

Once you’ve entered Morgenstern’s world, you are not likely to forget it.


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