“A dreamer is one who can only find his way by moonlight, and his punishment is that he sees the dawn before the rest of the world.”
– Oscar Wilde
(opening quote in The Night Circus)
I’m on something of a streak of reading books that everyone else discovered years ago, and then being surprised when they’re great.
The word “delightful” is overused – I heard that on NPR I think – but it describes this book perfectly. The Night Circus is pure delight.
I don’t want to summarize the plot because it will sound like a cliché, and it is not. I will say that there are magicians, and a circus that is only open at night, and a sweeping romance, and a bustling cast of glittering characters. The circus is an elegant wonderland. The whole story feels like a myth, both fantastical and true.
This book has the charm that I remember from Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, but without that book’s editing issues. Also, magic is not left to the men in this universe. The women are not only strong and complex, they are essential to the story.
The magic itself is beautifully imaginative. We are told just enough for it to seem logical, but the exact rules and machinery remains mysterious. I found this refreshing, since many fantasy works can read like instruction manuals at times. The Night Circus has a descriptive glee akin to the Harry Potter books – I wanted to taste the chocolate mice and feel the heat of the bonfire. I would pay a high price for a ticket to Le Cirque des Rêves, and I’m sure I’m not alone.
One of my favorite things about this book is its ending. Authors often seem to struggle to allow compelling, complicated plots to stop. Also, many fantasy stories end up using last-minute loopholes to resolve things, and it can feel like a cheat (cough, Draco Malfoy’s wand, cough). I don’t think it’s spoiling this book to say that the ending is satisfying and lovely.
Another fun part of the book is its hat-tip to the world of fandom. This is a universe tailor- made for fans, with its color themes and costumes, and I suppose the author recognized this and simply included them in her story. As the circus grows in fame, a small fan community grows around it. They are a minor, but integral part of the story, and anyone who has ever attended a Con or dressed up as a favorite character for Halloween will recognize them.
I loved this book, and I didn’t want to leave the world contained in it. It made me feel like a kid, in the best way – reading a book under the covers with a flashlight, imagining myself as a part of the story. I highly recommend The Night Circus.