This is a book that I loved reading and recommend, but I still feel that it could have been more. Let’s discuss.
Summary: Le Cirque des Reves appears without warning and is only open at night. It is filled with the most incredible, magical acts, tents, and personalities that you could imagine. It attracts young and old, it moves soundlessly and without warning from place to place, and it enjoys a spectacular run. But behind the scenes (dun dun DUN) are two old magicians, using the amazing circus as the medium for a long, inscrutable battle of magic by proxy.
I loved the premise. I loved the descriptions of the magic, the circus, the performances, the dreamlike illusions, the colors, the personalities, the costumes. I loved the immersiveness–the author noted in the epilogue that she was inspired by Punchdrunk, and I can tell. It’s wonderful. Morgenstern has created the circus I want to go to, and filled it with characters I hope exist somewhere in the real world, because I want to go to their parties. The ending was surprisingly satisfying, and many of the supporting characters were wonderfully imagined.
But for all that, it still left me a bit dissatisfied. I wanted the magic to be explained more–what are the rules? What are the limits? I wanted the young lovers to do something more magical than build cool things, or at least I wanted more explanation of what made those cool things so hard to build in the first place. I wanted the two feuding magicians to pay more for carelessly, needlessly playing with people’s lives. I wanted Celia and Marco to be more irate that they were pawns in this stupid game. While I appreciated that the author left many things unsaid, even to our heroes, and I get that that added to the ambiance and magic-mood, I wasn’t convinced that the author had really thought out the rules of the game or the limits of this world of magic. It was all very squishy, but not the kind of squishy where you can still trust that there is, in fact, an underlying skeleton. I kept comparing it to The Ocean at the End of the Lane, which had similarly inscrutable magic-rules (that is, you felt dropped into a dreamlike world whose rules you didn’t understand) but, I think, still managed to convince readers that the rules exist, somewhere—you just don’t need to know them.
And along those lines, I never really felt like I got to know the characters. For instance, Tsukiko, we learn at the end, is the champion of the last duel. But what else do we learn about her than that she is really old and an awesome contortionist? Not much. I felt there was a lot of room for intrigue and world-building with characters like Tsukiko that just…wasn’t there. Even our young lovers/competitors, while dashing and talented, never seemed really fleshedout. I mean, of course they fall in love, because that’s what heroes do, and because they’re both super-magic. But who are they, besides super-magicians? What will they do in their happily ever after? I’m not sure.
Rating: 4/5. I realize I just spent two paragraphs saying that I think this book could have been MORE, but what it is is still pretty great! I want to go to this circus! I was rooting for our heroes and supporting characters! And I’m optimistic about the movie, which I had not heard about until Google told me just now. It’s a beautiful. cinematic book, with stunning imagery–in the right hands, it’ll be an awesome movie.