The Night Circus is a story that could perhaps best be described as "ethereal." It has a wonderful sense of atmosphere to it, and that is truly the real draw here, because I have to say, there's not that much going on story-wise here. The plot supposedly revolves around an ongoing duel between two magicians, who were placed into conflict by their respective teachers and not really of their own free will. However, there's not really much dueling going on here, and absolutely zero animosity, and since none of our main characters actually know the rules of the game, the game itself is pretty much moot and the descriptions of the eponymous Night Circus are left to carry the story.
It's slow, with a mild intertwining romance component that develops just a tiny bit at a time but still can't really be called a "slow burn" because it's barely there at all. There's little plot, little romance, and the second-person sections peppered throughout were, uhm, utterly useless. And yet I liked this. How to describe such a thing?
Well, as I mentioned above, it's an ethereal sort of story. It's all atmosphere, all smoke and mirrors, working to make you think that more is going on than there actually is. And it works. Just like with our real-world magic shows, even though you know that it's not what it appears, it still has some sort of appeal. And the end, when the rules of the game actually come out and the short batch of action and devastation and reparation that follows, is actually truly beautiful and one of my favorite tropes. And I really enjoyed the setting, too--this time period, around the turn of the nineteenth-to-twentieth-century, works perfectly for this sort of story. It's a time when the circus was still magical rather than being tawdry and seen as the home of animal abuse and carnival rides of questionable safety. And the costume porn here is absolutely amazing; what I wouldn't give for something like Celia's color-changing dress!
So, I think that summarizes this book pretty well. Don't go to it looking for action and duels and steamy romance, even from afar. Instead, seek this one out if you're looking for a sense of magic and whimsy, and you don't mind letting that sense build slowly and drift around like a sort of mist or the clouds of the Cloud Maze; there doesn't appear to be very many actual rules to magic here, which bothers me a bit, but it still has enough appeal that I really liked it. I think if that sense of atmosphere had been done just one iota less well, this would have been a very different book completely, and not in a good way. But luckily for us, Morgenstern did the atmosphere masterfully, and I think we're all better off for it.
4 stars out of 5.
I read this book for my 2017 Popsugar Reading Challenge, for the category of "A book you bought on a trip." I bought my copy of The Night Circus on a trip back to my hometown of Erie, Pennsylvania, at the used bookstore Books Galore.