The Night Circus

Written by Erin Morgenstern
Review by Jessica Brockmole

Le Cirque des Rêves arrives unannounced. No posters, no parade, no invitations. Overnight, black and white striped circus tents appear on the outskirts of town, surrounding a white-flamed bonfire that never goes out. But it’s a circus unlike any other. Patrons can wander a garden made entirely of ice, climb a labyrinth of clouds, watch a contortionist disappear in a puff of smoke.

But Le Cirque des Rêves is more than just a circus; it’s a battleground for two young illusionists, Celia and Marco, caught in a competition of magic. Arranged by their rival mentors, the competition has no clear rules, save that only one will emerge a victor. They battle illusion with illusion, creating tents of imagination — one filled with flying paper dragons, one with a pure white desert, one with a pool of tears – each one surpassing the last. Soon the tents they create are not just for the competition, but for each other. Despite the warnings from their mentors, Celia and Marco fall in love.

The Night Circus is a love story, a mystery, a fantasy, and a gaslight romance. Skipping between time, the circus, the competition, and the romance slowly unfurl. The story itself is small – forbidden love leading to a heart-rending choice – but the world it’s set in is big. Morgenstern’s Victorian London is fanciful and moody, Le Cirque des Rêves so atmospheric I can almost taste the caramel corn and smell the bonfire. I’m a self-avowed skimmer of world-building in novels, but I was unexpectedly lost in those black-and-white striped tents. Morgenstern writes visual prose that leaves me anticipating an eventual film adaptation. An entrancing and engrossing debut.