Under the Big Top of the Night Circus

The smell of the popcorn and caramel apples, the sweet melody of the music, the thrill of waiting to see the tight rope walker or the animal trainer facing off with lions…  the cacophony of the crowd as it “oohhhs” and “aahhs” in amazement at the next unbelievable feat to be performed…  The promise of the thrill of this black and white circus was so exciting.

Unfortunately, while the setting itself lived up to the wonderment of a circus dubbed “Night Circus” (by Erin Morgenstern) the plot and some of the characters were so one dimensional that they couldn’t hold a candle to the electricity of the circus itself .  

The premise was excellent.  Two master magicians in a fierce battle where the weapons aren’t guns or even wands, but other magicians that they will train.  The battlefield isn’t really a fantasy world, ministry lobby or arena, but an artfully crafted circus, which itself is a bit of magic.  We don’t get the rules of the competition until very late in the game.  And there are so very many players in the game – more than just the two magical gladiators chosen by the magicians pulling the strings – despite what the magicians involved believe.

Having read an interview with the author where she noted that she is not good with plot, my first thought was “no kidding” and then “she should probably have kept that to herself.”  The descriptions were beautiful and vivid.  I could read a sentence or two describing the circus or the tent within it, and close my eyes and see it in such exacting detail.  But, the time jumping and the character/relationship development was so light it didn’t move the plot along very well.  In addition, I looked at the page count towards the end of the book and wondered where this great battle was.  The synopsis promised a battle, but that’s so not an accurate description of the interaction.  In fact, the characters begin building illusions/tents for each other – for each other to work off of and to inspire each other.  That’s not a battle in my mind.  I really think that these publishing companies don’t have the people who write the snyposes (ok, I had to look up the plural form of that!) actually read the books before they write these.

Despite the let down that the lack of any real battle caused, the denouement was clever – the way the “battle” is resolved is satisfying once expectations are revised to not expect a winner of some epic showdown.

Suggestions for those reading this book:  ignore the time frames at the beginning of the chapters.  It is hard to track, it causes confusion, and if you simply ignore it and use your own brain to see where in the story the chapter logically falls, it’s a better read.  Also, don’t try to figure out why each of the characters are involved.  Some of them – we never really get a good understanding of why they are part of the circus.  If you just accept that they are part of the circus or will be, it’s a better read.  Don’t stress over not really knowing the rules.  We don’t get the rules of the contest until very near the end and in many ways, I am not sure we get all the rules anyway.  We finally learn how a winner will be decided but, without giving away any real spoilers, just know that the future for our love birds isn’t as dire as it seems when we do learn how a winner will be chosen.  And finally, if you are looking for more interaction between our competitors to have a better view of their love story, don’t look too hard – you won’t find it.  You just need to accept that they manage to some how spend enough time together and there must be enough of each other in the illusions that they build for them to fall madly in love.

It was entertaining, but not exactly the 5 star book that I was expecting based on some of the more credible reviews I read.  If you like the circus, this is worth the visit – the mental picture the author can build is worth the admission price.  And, if you are afraid of clowns, have no fear – it’s not that kind of circus!


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