2022 Reading Review: “The Night Circus”

2022. The year I will read more books.

It didn’t happen much in 2021, but I was finishing a Master’s Degree, man. I was anxious as hell, exhausted all the time, and most of my reading was dedicated to research articles.

But 2022, we’re changing that. And the first book I read this year was The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern. This is a book I’ve heard so much about. It’s been recommended to me so many times and I knew I just had to jump on. And I did have a blast!

The Night Circus is a fantasy novel published in 2012. It’s not high fantasy, so readers don’t have to get used to a completely different world. But it is set in the late 1700s/early 1800s and magic exists. So there are some rules to get used to. And the main story is that two magicians are going head-to-head in a challenge that was set when they were just children. Caught in the middle is a circus that becomes magical to performers and visitors alike. But what are the stakes of this challenge and what will it mean for the competitors and those in-between?

Will You Like This?

Do you like fantasy?
Or, at least, do you like fantastical settings and happenings—things that feel like magic?
Do you like romance, but not-too-heavy romance?

This book might be right up your alley.

Still intrigued? Or are you a reader yourself looking for other opinions? Read on, if so. There may be some light spoilers in this review, so tread lightly!

Story

The Night Circus follows two young magicians both trained by different masters. While children, their masters contract them to take part in a challenge. Neither knows the other and neither knows what the challenge entails. But they spend all their lives training until the day the Night Circus is born.

We, the readers, get to join in on this challenge, but the not-knowing as well. We get to see the formation of this circus and see how it is built—and then how it changes. And we, along with our magicians, begin to realize what this challenge is all about and what it means for all involved.

Something interesting I’m noting as I reflect on the story: there isn’t really a villain. You may argue that Celia’s and Marco’s teachers are the villains, as they set this challenge and circus in motion. But there are hints in the story that say those two are so disconnected from humanity that it doesn’t register with them. And the glimpses we get into Marco’s teacher at the very end reveal he’s looking for a deeper connection in the world as well. So, I cannot class these two as villains, but rather people who’ve lost touch with the world of humanity.

And, yes, that’s villainous in some ways. If anything, of the two, I feel Celia’s teacher—her own father—is probably the more villainous, but even then… well, his fate by the end of the book is questionable.

But there not being a villain is something I find interesting in books. It’s a reminder that not everyone in the world is bad; some people might just be ambivalent or even apathetic. And that’s a truth we need to remember.

Characters

Our main magicians are Celia and Marco. They talented magicians locked in battle, but slowly becoming connected in more ways. Watching their interactions with one another, even when they have no contact, is a beautiful dance in and of itself.

There are two twins, Widget and Poppet, whose birth we witness on the circus’ opening night. I loved these two. I liked their conversations, always secretly knowing more than they let on to other. It was fun to watch them bounce off each other and see how they balanced the other. They were a fun inclusion and I genuinely enjoyed watching them grow in this circus realm.

Bailey was a character I struggled to determine how he fit into the story. I did like seeing the circus from his eyes and his own unique connection to Poppet and Widget. And I liked the friendship he formed with them as well. I was excited to see his connection to this magical world—and when I realized who he’d be, I was thrilled at the reveal. I do wish we could have seen more of him after his big reveal, but knowing and seeing Poppet and Widget still at his side as friends to him and the circus was still satisfying.

All the characters we meet in this space have their own unique qualities and I enjoyed all of them for that. I enjoyed Tsukiko and her own mystery and mysticism. I loved Isobel and watching her read tarot; as a tarot reader myself, I love seeing it pop up in books and seeing if the cards are written about accurately. (Incidentally, they’re missing an opportunity by not making a Night Circus themed deck!). And Herr Friedrick Thiessen’s role clock maker and head of the rêveurs was marvelous.

Writing

Morgenstern’s style and tone was wonderful. I fell into this book. Everything flowed smoothly and I connected to the words and writing. I love it when a book can capture me in that way. And I loved how the entire connected. As I read, I would question how things would resolve or how some characters fit into the story. By the end, everything connected. I remember even having the lightbulb moment go off for me—and that is a fun moment, as a reader.

So, the prose all worked. But another unique quality of the book? There are parts that are written in second-person—which means you, the reader, feel like you’re attending the Night Circus! I loved that. And those parts written in second-person were very personal, written in such a way that they almost sounded like poetry. But, again, it flowed so nicely with the rest of the story. It helped to set scenes and it made me feel more connected with the setting.

There is so much magic in the story, in seeing the settings and magic within the circus. The way the book describes this circus, we are there, too, and we fall in love with it. In a lot of ways, the reader feels like they are part of this book. And the story engulfs you.

Overall

I feel The Night Circus is worth reading if you enjoy light fantasy and magic. There is a beauty and whimsy to it that I enjoyed. And it was fun falling into this book. I could always envision what was happening and I would get lost reading it as I imagined it. Book that can accomplish that are amazing.

You’ll like the characters. They are rounded and fully-developed; they’re people and you connect with them. You will love the setting and scenery. It will feel like you’re lost in the black-and-white circus with tents you can only imagine. You may yourself become a rêveur.

It has been over a week since I finished this book and as I reflect on it, I don’t think there’s a thing I would change.

Get lost in the fantastical. It’s always worth it.

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