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“The circus arrives without warning. No announcements precede it. It is simply there, when yesterday it was not.”
Two rival magicians agree to bind their students to a challenge. Hector will teach his daughter, Celia, and Alexander will teach a student of his own choosing. When the students are older, they will face each other in a challenge. The rules are never quite clear. When the venue for the challenge is finally chosen, it turns out to be The Night Circus, a new circus done entirely in black and white and where only the best performers and spectacles in the world are to be found.
I think that maybe audio was not quite the right medium for me to approach this story. Don’t get me wrong; I could listen to Jim Dale narrate all day, and he did a fantastic job with this. I think most of the appeal of the book is in the luscious descriptive language, and I personally can’t appreciate that kind of thing quite as much in an audiobook.
My favorite parts were the introductions to each section, when a new tent is described. Those were very visual and very well done. I could see them in my imagination as I was driving along January-gray roads, and I was transported to a magical circus where anything is possible.
And while I enjoyed the plot, it just didn’t feel like a whole lot actually happened. There was a lot of description and what action there was consisted of people muddling around trying to figure out what’s going with the circus, when I as the reader already knew. That’s not entirely fair, but that’s how I started to feel.
There are two stories alternating between different times, and I just couldn’t figure out how they fit together. It’s obvious that they do, but it wasn’t apparent how until the very end. So I’m driving along wondering what on earth this little dreamy kid from New England has to do with a magicians’ challenge and a night circus. I don’t mind alternating stories, but it drives me crazy when I can’t fit things like that together.
I guessed the biggest part of how the book would end pretty early on, so I wasn’t particularly worried as I came to the “climactic” ending. I did think one thing throughout the biggest part of the story, but then something was said and I knew something different was coming and exactly what it was.
The characters were a little more “miss” than “hit” for me. I never quite related to Celia and Marco. I somehow just didn’t trust Marco for a very long time. There’s no particular reason; I just didn’t. Celia never really showed much personality. She’s so afraid of letting go and breaking something that she was mostly boring. The only times she really got interesting were the few times she let go. The twins, Poppet and Widget, were by far the most interesting characters in the whole story. I enjoyed the way they played off each others’ strengths and the love they have for the circus, the only home they’ve ever known. I did like Isobel as well. I don’t want to say much about her, but I kind of wish that she’d had a bigger role. She had the potential to cause even more complications, and I think she could have made things very interesting.
I do love beautifully-written, visual books when I’m in the right mood for them, and I think I could have really enjoyed this if I’d been able to savor the words on the pages. I do still recommend it, just pick it up in the format that you’re most comfortable with.
Read an excerpt.
Buy The Night Circus at
I have an affiliate relationship with Malaprop’s, my local independent bookstore located in beautiful downtown Asheville, NC; and Better World Books. I will receive a small commission at no cost to you if you purchase books through links on my site.