The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern: 4/5 Stars

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern – Review

This is not what it says it is.

The Night Circus was not a normal book. So of course it won’t get a normal review. MUHAHA.

I finished The Night Circus a few days ago, and since then I’ve moved on to another circus-like book, which has only made appreciate The Night Circus more. (Because, well. The completion is slim.)

I had horrible misconceptions of TNC when I started it, so before I get into my review, here’s what it’s not.

The Night Circus is not a romance; it is advertised as one, and does have a love story, but it’s not the focus of the novel. (But more on that later.)

The Night Circus is not a action-packed competition. It spans more than a decade and hardly anything happens. (Have fun with that if you’re looking for a thriller!)

The Night Circus is hardly about the people. It’s about a thing: the circus. (But I bet you saw that coming.) There are people involved, yes, but they aren’t the focus of the story. At least, not as much as the circus is.

The Night Circus’ circus is hardly a circus at all. Which is totally fine by me. (I’m not into the animal shows, drabby, faded circus tents, hot dusty walkways, and creepy music.) Take all that away and imagine a completely black-and-white circus, striped tents, and magic passed of as clever illusion. (I would totally go to that circus.)

Before I get too carried away, here’s a brief overview of the book:

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern: 4/5 Stars

★ ★ ★ ★

Adult / Genre: Historical Fiction, Fantasy / Content: 16+ / Recommended

The circus arrives without warning. No announcements precede it, no paper notices plastered on lampposts and billboards. It is simply there, when yesterday it was not. 

Within these nocturnal black-and-white striped tents awaits an utterly unique, a feast for the senses, where one can get lost in a maze of clouds, meander through a lush garden made of ice, stare in wonderment as the tattooed contortionist folds herself into a small glass box, and become deliciously tipsy from the scents of caramel and cinnamon that waft through the air. 

Welcome to Le Cirque des Rêves.

(via Goodreads)

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern (Cover)
The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

“Magic . . . This is not magic. This is the way the world is, only very few people take the time to stop and note it. Look around you . . . Not a one of them even has seen an inkling of the things that are possible in this world, and what’s worse is that none of them would listen if you attempted to enlighten them. They want to believe that magic is nothing but clever deception, because to think it real would keep them up at night, afraid of their own existence.”

The Night Circus was a beautiful, beautiful book. It was intensely imaginative; sparkling and glittering and resplendent. It was ethereal, extremely and intensely visual. It wasn’t gory or graphic, but it was irrevocably sinister. It felt like a dream.

It was glowing.
It was captivating.
It was enchanting.
It was magical.

Erin Morgenstern’s writing was dazzling. She is a gifted and masterful storyteller; holding me in a soft suspense during the entirety of the novel. I did not want to leave it.

The Night Circus left me feeling like I had just woken from a dream. Aching to go back, wanting more, softly sad, slightly unsettled.

The structure was interesting: it was not linear, and I could easily get confused if I wasn’t paying attention. Which was kind of awesome.

It was filled with beautiful quotes, ideas, dreams, and thoughts like this one about the power of a story:

“Someone needs to tell those tales. 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, someone needs to tell their bits of overlapping narrative. 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 else they might do because of it, because of your words. That is your role, your gift.”

The worldbuilding was marvelous. There’s not much I’ve read that’s better. I felt transported into a fully realized, yet highly imagined world where nothing is exactly as it seems. It was beautifully populated and felt so so rich. I enjoyed the trip into nineteenth-century London (and beyond) and everything about the circus itself felt surreal. It was a pleasure to be there. I cannot describe the wonder and beauty of The Night Circus’ world.

The story set off at a fast pace. The chapters alternated between two quickly moving storylines, and I was surprised by how well, and how skillfully, they were woven together. Towards the middle of the novel, though, the pace slowed significantly, and it started to drag.

D r a g, people.

(I’m not a fan of that.)

This is when I discovered, this was not about an action-packed challenge.

I’m not usually too critical about pacing, but it did become a bit of a problem here. It felt stretched too thin; way too thin. It wasn’t enough for me to put it down entirely, but it took effort to continue. The plot itself had so much promise, but it was left untapped. I felt slightly cheated.

Can you guess? I’m not a fan of that, either.

I’m a character-driven reader, so usually, (usually), I can forgive the plot and pacing…as long as I am absolutely in love with the characters. The characters here were very well written, but they still felt flat. There wasn’t much to them that felt real.

What is going on?!

My characters…my characters have to feel real. (Do you hear the hyperventilating in the distance? That’s me.) As you can tell, the characters were not a selling point.

This is when I discovered, this is not about the characters.

The last thing I’m going to address is the romance. Like it or not, interest in this novel depends heavily on the romance. I said in the intro that this is not a romance. That’s true, it isn’t. But somehow the romance takes up a significant portion of the story. If you don’t like it, you’ll probably end up not liking the book either. If you like it, chances are high you’ll love the book too.

I did not. Personally, I found it unsatisfying and very odd. (It also never helps when the love interest jilts one girl to be free for the other and that’s supposed to be romantic.) It felt too much like insta-love, though the years elapsed in the story renders that idea out of the question. However, the broad time frame was not used to develop the romance in any significant way, so it ended up feeling like any real or potential development was skipped over, making the romance feel just as sudden and drastic (and slightly unrealistic) as true insta-love would’ve been in the first place. (Oops.)

This was when I discovered, this was not a romance.

I was enchanted by The Night Circus, I really was. Somehow it managed to get four stars from me fair and square; even after all of that. 

But I expected so much more from it. So much more from the plot. So much more from the characters. So much more from everything.

I regret to say that it did not live up to my expectations as much as I would have liked it to.

That’s not to say it wasn’t magical.
That’s not to say it wasn’t beautiful.
That’s not to say it wasn’t one of the most enchanting books I’ve ever read.

“There are many kinds of magic, after all.”

It was just too stretched; too thin. Too many pages with too little development. I was just waiting, waiting, waiting. (There were certainly years enough in the story.)

Can you tell by now my problem with The Night Circus? You might have noticed that I’ve been using one particular word a lot. Development. (Rather, the lack thereof.) That’s it. That’s all my problems with it wrapped up in one pretty package. There was not enough development in the plot, in the characters, in the romance. The timing became a problem.

If you’re in to long, slow, slightly suspicious, and masterfully written stories, this one’s for you. I enjoyed it, but not too much more. Still, it’s a story I want to come back to.

The Night Circus felt unexecuted, with a promise of more to come.

A whisper.

Is it okay for me to read?

Language • • • • •

One use of the f-word, d***, and “bloody h**l.”

Violence • • • •

A woman steps in front of a train and a man is accidentally stabbed once and killed, though the events are not depicted in any detail. A girl’s father forces her to train by injuring herself (pretty painfully) to get her to heal herself.

Sensuality • • • • •

Two characters kiss lightly and eventually become lovers, though it is described in a Victorian fashion. I.e., very subtle. (In other words, the content is there, but it’s brushed over; the description is vague and doesn’t linger.)

Substances • • • • •

Of-age characters drink wine and champagne on multiple occasions. A proprietor (a peripheral character) is often drunk.

For more about my content ratings and what they mean, click here.