That first line of The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern had me ready to read the story of Le Cirque des Reves and the menagerie of people who were part of it. This is the story of two men who have spent an untold number of years wagering each other on the proper way for magic to be studied and used. They don’t test each other directly, they challenge each other by proxy—with the use of a student they’ve selected and trained in their particular “school” of magic. Prospero the Enchanter, a flashy stage magician, has selected his daughter Celia Bowen for this particular challenge due to her innate abilities. Mr. A.H has opted to pluck a seemingly random young boy, Marco Alisdair, from an orphanage. The two are trained knowing they will one day face an opponent in a challenge of skill but are told precious little else about the challenge. The explanation of rules is that they can’t interfere with the work of their opponent and nothing else is given to them. The venue for the challenge is to be a unique circus–one that’s only open from dusk to dawn. What the two masterminds don’t account for is that their students not only set out to create their own rules, but that they would also fall in love.
I really enjoyed this book overall. However, there was a moment several chapters into my start that I was worried. Things were progressing slower than I expected, there were a lot of characters to introduce and establish and even the circus itself needed to be explained. Getting everything in place involved not just jumping between characters with each chapter, but also jumping back and forth in time. Introducing and altering chapters between Prospero/Celia and A.H./Marco worked well and there were some great “break” chapters that went in to the description of the circus, these breaks were presented as if the reader were themselves walking into the circus. But then a character named Bailey Clarke was introduced and there was enough focus on him over other “minor” characters that you knew he was going to play a major roll in things, it was just unclear for a little while how he fit in to things. I took a break from reading because I wasn’t sure if I liked how things were progressing. I really wanted to learn more about the circus itself and that’s ultimately what drew me back in to reading the book. I’m glad I did. Once the characters were established and the rebellion that Celia and Marco were engaging in was more apparent, things became very interesting.
Ms. Morgenstern has put a lot of detail and colorful characters into her black and white themed circus. Despite what I felt was a slow start, it was a well developed story and a wonderful read. And although she’s said there’s no planned series or sequel, she’s at least hinted that the circus might be revisited in some way at some time. Perhaps that return will arrive unannounced.