This novel is unique. It is a historical fantasy that is almost impressionistic in style and dreamlike in tone. It tells the story of two enchanters who occupy themselves by forcing their respective students into decades-long, painfully drawn-out, life-engulfing…duels? Competitions? Contests? Endurance tests? The rules are vague and the structure of the contest difficult to illustrate, describe, or understand, but the author is so skilled that the reader is drawn in completely, despite the lack of concrete concepts. The mysterious Night Circus of the title is merely the venue for the contest, but it is so compellingly depicted that it pulses with life – almost as if it is a character itself. The real stars are the competitors, however. Celia and Marco – two impossibly gorgeous, talented, and intelligent magicians whose magic is so beautiful and illusory in itself that the reader wishes that it were real, if only to experience the dream which the circus patrons are privileged to witness. The magicians are trapped in a constant battle for something they don’t understand, despite their being drawn to one another and entirely fascinated by the other’s whole being. They strive to win, and, eventually, strive to lose.
The plot is nonlinear, going back and forth in time with almost every chapter, but this is rarely a problem since the chapter headings give precise dates and the chapters focus almost exclusively on one set of characters at a time. The plot is filled to the brim with other fascinating side characters with enchanting plot lines of their own – some are likable, some despicable, all mysterious. The story is woven together intricately. No thread is complete until the final moment, and even then, some enigmatic strings are left hanging, just to give the reader something to think about.
The author does a wonderful job of simply describing – everything. While occasionally the detail is overwhelming and the plot only loosely defined, it makes for pleasurable reading nonetheless. The brief portions written in 2nd-person are spellbinding. Suspension of disbelief is required in enormous quantities, but if you have a good imagination, that should be no problem. Additionally, I found Celia and Marco to be rather boring and unrealistically perfect compared to other characters (the unlikely hero is much more compelling), but that’s part of the charm – the author merely portrays the facts, and the conclusions are left to the reader. If you can briefly relinquish your hold on reality, this book is absolutely magical.
Reviewer Grade: 12