I have to admit, the timing here is almost ironic. I finish this book just when Ringling Brothers announces their closure. Anyways, Night Circus has a lot going for it. An interesting premise, mystery, magic, and a great cast of characters in an intriguing setting. The language is also unusually detailed, which matches well with the mysterious artsy tone.
I should have loved this, but I only liked it. I had 3 main problems with Night Circus. First and foremost, I hate present tense narrative, and everything else was not stellar enough to override that. Second, the artful language tried too hard, especially when the second person breaks in, as it does occasionally throughout. I know this is a technique meant to draw a reader into the world, but when the characters don’t understand what’s going on a lot of the time, the second person interludes with the attempts at atmosphere just don’t work because there’s nothing to quite connect them too.
Lastly, the mysteries stretch out for nearly the whole book, and then suddenly come a handful of answers at the end. You might say this is pacing issue. didn’t notice this until I was halfway through, but the novel jumps around time-wise, and at first it was confusing until I noticed that time frames had been changed. Because it’s hard to notice, if you don’t pay attention, a time jump or skip might happen, and you’re lost as to what’s going on. Given that no one else seems to know what’s going on except the 2 magicians for most of the book, this is not artful or suspenseful; it’s just confusing. Having Celia and Marco suddenly a) figure out the competition they’ve been set up in for the past 20+ years and b) suddenly hook up (admittedly that’s been set up for a long time, but the suddenness of acting on it doesn’t work) after 90 percent of the story has built layers of mystery and conflict is just not satisfying, and it doesn’t explain how or why things turn out as they do. Why does it take 25 years for two pretty talented magicians to figure out the competition they’re set up in, and why do they suddenly give in to their attraction to each other? For that matter, what do they see in each other, other than a fellow competitor with a sucky upbringing? Marco was an orphan adopted and trained by the mysterious Mr A.H (magician 1), while Celia’s father is Prospero the Enchanter (magician 2), former student of A.H., who competes with him by raising Celia specifically to win a mysterious competition against a pupil of A.H’s. Marco is abandoned a lot of the time, and Celia is abused for lack of a better term to train her in magic. A.H. mentions near the end that he chose Marco to complement Celia, but what that means is not explained. I can guess what the game is, but because no one else really seems to know or care, it doesn’t seem to matter, but it’s the central plot so it feels like it should.
What really saves Night Circus is the side characters. The ordinary-ish people who get drawn in to help set up and run the circus, like Chandresh the wealthy sponsor/dilettante, the Burgess sisters, Madame Padva the former ballerina, Mr. Barris the architect, and the clockmaker Mr Thiessen all are interesting and somewhat complex, and together they create the circus setting, but all experience some kind of tragedy as a result. There’s also the next generation, who include Poppet and Widget, the Murray twins who are born opening night of the circus to circus parents (their father is the large cat trainer), and Bailey who is dared to break into the circus at the age of 10, and from that moment experiences a strange connection to the place and its people. These are the more human, and more relatable characters. They’re the ones I rooted for, cried for, and generally cared about. Not Celia and Marco, who are the main characters.
This was worth reading, but it wasn’t as great as the hype. 3.5 stars.