The Night Circus, Erin Morgenstern

1:07 PM

“But dreams have ways of turning into nightmares.”

Captivating. Other-worldly. There is no other way to describe Erin Morgenstern's masterpiece. If you think this is your typical love story, you're wrong. If you think this is your typical circus book, you're wrong. Damn it, if you think this is your typical anything, you're wrong. The Night Circus is nothing short of magical.

The annotation reads something along the lines of blah-blah magic blah-blah love story blah-blah circus blah-blah mystery blah-blah. Forget that. Forget whatever you've heard about that book. Because it is unlike anything you have ever read. On the surface, the plot is quite classical. Star-crossed lovers. Overly ambitious tutors. Magicians. A circus. Someone destined to die. You know the lot. However, the book is so much more.

Celia and Marco have been training their whole life for the Challenge. Neither knows quite what it is. Neither knows who their opponent is. Venue: unknown. The challenge: to the death. The only thing they are aware of is that they are bound to each other, bound for life, bound by magic, bound to magic. And there is no way out.

But this is not a story about Celia and Marco.

The circus is created. Or the circus creates itself. No one really knows. No one really understands. It arrives unannounced. It begins at nightfall, it ends at dawn. Le Cirque des Reves: elegant, miraculous, breathtaking. Once you witness it, you're sold for life. It obsesses you, it captures your very soul, it touches every nerve. And it never lets go. A circus like no other: only the best, only the most magical performers. Do you dare to go in? Do you dare to stay out? 

The circus is the venue. The circus is the challenge. However, this is not a story about the challenge. This is not a story about Celia and Marco. It is not about Tsukiko, about Bailey, about Poppet and Widget. This is not a story about any of the characters. But it is not about the circus either. This is the story of the circus. Of the way it affects anyone who ever approaches it. If you are ever touched by it, you are never, ever the same.

This book is haphazard. It flows, unpredictable like a river. Effervescent, diaphanous. The plot jumps from past to present, overlaps, entwines the fates of magicians and architects, and farmers, and clairvoyants, young and old, men and women, rich and poor. And you. It connects, across the world, anyone and anything that has ever come in contact with the circus. The second you open the book, you are swept away by the coherently connected fates of richly, masterfully created full-blooded characters that pop up from the pages. Flamboyant or wrapped in dark mystery, plain or peculiar, each of them undertakes a marvelous journey that cleverly intertwines with all the other plot lines: all united by the circus.

Morgentstern ties your heartstrings into a knot. Plays on them. Squeezes or touches gently. She knows the right word every time. She evokes the proper reaction every time. She dances with your imagination, puts your senses to the test. But what is more, she gracefully weaves serious themes into her dark, dreamlike story. Underneath the veil of polished magic and thrilling adventure is a story of manipulation and burning ambition, of pushing one's limits, of the heart corrupted, of love and trust, of passion and talent, of free will and magic.

What makes this book click is the wonderful way it is written. It feels like silk between your fingers. Like cotton candy melting on the tip of your tongue. Like fine wine down your throat. Morgenstern pays painful attention to detail. As you read, you can see every lace on a woman's dress. Every speck of dust on a flat wooden surface. You can hear the hustle and bustle of the circus. Rain rattling on the windows. A collective sigh. The swish of a skirt. You can smell caramel and popcorn, and cider, and cocoa. You can feel the energy of excitement in the air. The words do not caress you. The words pull you under; you're lost. The vivid imagery brings the book to life.

I could not, for the life of me, quite put my finger on what makes The Night Circus so special. What I suspect, however, is that the circus lives. Its magic seeps out of the pages, and you consume it, and are charmed by it, and you sell your soul to it. It is always there, lurking in the back of your mind, rooted in your heart with its black-and-white tents and its mulled cider and its silent performers, the circus of dreams, shrouded in mystery. Behold!

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