three-and-half-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
55-Nov-Dec-2011
user_rating: 
0

A-The Night CircusErin Morgenstern, a first-time novelist and a Boston multimedia artist, finds magic and romance at a fin-de-siècle circus.

The Story: Celia and Marco, two young magicians, perform in cities across 19th-century Europe. She had her paranormal abilities honed by her gifted father, while Marco, an orphan, was trained by a mysterious man in gray. The two are brought together at Le Cirque des Rêves, or The Circus of Dreams; there, they provide the magic for the spectacles, including a never-melting ice garden, that captivate audiences night after night. Little do they know that they have been pitted in a contest by their two mentors: Celia's and Marco's magical abilities will determine which teacher is the superior magician. But Celia and Marco do know, soon enough, that they love each other, which sets the stage for a terrible conflict.
Doubleday. 400 pages. $26.95. ISBN: 9780385534635

Denver Post 4 of 5 Stars
"The Night Circus works, in large part, because the reader is in the hands of a wondrous storyteller. The initial sense is of being taken on a journey whose destination is a while in coming; that's just fine because the trip is rich and its turns unexpected." Robin Vidimos

Kansas City Star 4 of 5 Stars
"With echoes of Alice Hoffman (fairy tale magic), Audrey Niffenegger (teleporting) and J. K. Rowling (young wizards, here magicians), Morgenstern's debut is lifted by its poetic writing, winking literary allusions and thematic cohesion. ... This book shows its petticoat only when it lapses into a stock romance between the young magicians." Jeffrey Ann Goudie

Minneapolis Star Tribune 4 of 5 Stars
"If the preamble--so aptly titled ‘Anticipation'--doesn't make you sit right down on the floor of your library or bookstore to see what Morgenstern conjures up next, you may not be the right reader for this novel. I'll wager, however, that you will fall quickly under her spell." Melanie Cremins

USA Today 4 of 5 Stars
"Cynics might say this story about a doomed young couple with supernatural powers fighting otherworldly foes borrows a lot from the Harry Potter and Twilight blockbuster series. ... Morgenstern says she didn't plan the book as a series, but enough questions dangle at the end to set the stage for a sequel." Patty Rhule

Washington Post 3.5 of 5 Stars
"[T]here's probably too much going on here, even for a three-ring circus, and so many colorful characters that the protagonists can seem a bit underdeveloped. What keeps the plot moving forward, though, is the delicately evolving attraction between Marco and Celia, as their dark masters call for fiercer competition." Ron Charles

Independent (UK) 2 of 5 Stars
"[H]owever lavish the exotic icing on this literary cake, nothing can ultimately disguise the underlying doughy reality of a repetitive story, flatly narrated. Characters do as they are told rather than reveal themselves, and magic becomes devalued because it can be performed so easily." Nicholas Tucker

Critical Summary

Alice Hoffman, J. K. Rowling, Susanna Clarke, Steven Millhauser--reviewers captured The Night Circus best by comparison. Sure, maybe Morgenstern is cashing in (with a six-figure advance and rights sold in 30 countries) on readers' seemingly insatiable hunger for supernatural sagas. But so what? Fans of adult fairy tales, of smart, magical, escapist fiction, should put this absorbing debut novel--already slated for the silver screen--at the top of their list. And if the main characters tend to be cardboard figures and the love plot is no more surprising than the presence of trapeze artists at a circus, well, the real magic, reviewers agreed, resides in how Morgenstern weaves together seemingly unrelated plot threads in a dazzling finish.