“There are many kinds of magic, after all,” the mysterious Mr. A.H. concludes towards the end of Erin Morgenstern's debut novel, The Night Circus. This is meant to be a reassurance to Widget, a young magician who isn't quite sure that his knack for taking the past and weaving it into a compelling story is as important as his twin sister's gift for seeing the future in the stars. While I might not agree with Mr. A.H. on much else, I will concede that the best books have a magic all their own. Considering that The Night Circus is Mrs. Morgenstern's first novel, and all the hype surrounding it (her publishers are trying to recognize it as the next Twilight, even though it has nothing to do with the sparkly undead and is adult fiction, not YA), I was fully prepared to be disappointed. Which means it came as a surprise when I found myself completely sucked into a world filled with magic and wonder, a world that I wished was real even as I turned the last page.
Since childhood, Celia and Marco have been bound by two master illusionists to compete against each other in a sort of game, the rules of which are not divulged to the two until almost the end of the novel. Le Cirque des Rêves (The Circus of Dreams) is the setting where our two players create their illusions: a labyrinth full of rooms, each containing its own world; a tent filled with living origami animals; a winter wonderland of crystal trees with icy white blooms, where the snow never melts; and then, perhaps my favorite, the wishing tree: “ [it] is covered in dripping white candles... It's lovely the way wishes are added to it, by lighting candles with ones that are already lit and adding them to the branches. New wishes ignited by old wishes.” Each of these scenarios is contained within the black and white tents of the circus, which travels around the world, arriving without warning, and is open only from sundown to sunup. Celia travels with the circus, performing as its resident illusionist, while Marco lives in London, his additions to their magical game appearing within in new tents that seem to simply come into existence.
Over time, the two fall in love. It's one of those earth-shattering, heart-stopping, butterflies-in-your-stomach kind of loves, made all the more tragic since they are supposed to be competitors in a game that has unknown outcomes. Because their instructors who first bound them into the competition, a certain Mr. A.H. and Prospero the Enchanter, encourage them to stay away from one another and focus on honing their craft, Marco and Celia are often apart. So, Le Cirque des Rêves becomes their love letter to one another:
“I would have written you, myself, if I could put down in words everything I want to say to you. A sea of ink would not be enough.”“But you built me dreams instead,” Celia says.
In an attempt to not spoil all the lovely surprises within the book, I'll let you discover the rest of the circus for yourself. The Night Circus gets a five out of five star rating from me. For its mysterious setting, beautiful prose, and lovable characters, Mrs. Morgenstern's debut novel is a definite contender for my pick for book of the year.
And because I simply cannot help myself (I did, sort of highlight the entire book), I leave you with this:
“When the battles are fought and won and lost, when the pirates find their treasures and the dragons eat their foes for breakfast with a nice cup of Lapsang souchong... There's magic in that. It's in the listener, and for each and every ear it will be different, and it will affect them in ways they can never predict. From the mundane to the profound. You may tell a tale that takes up residence in someone's soul, becomes their blood and self and purpose. That tale will move them and drive them and who knows what they might do because of your words. That is your role, your gift... There are many kinds of magic, after all.”