Cannonball Read IV

A bunch of Pajibans reading and reviewing and honoring AlabamaPink.

Archive for the tag “The Night Circus”

Amurph11’s #CBR4 Review #32, The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

“People see what they wish to see. And in most cases, what they are told that they see.” -Erin Morgenstern, The Night Circus

I read The Night Circus as part of a community reading project, sponsored by my local library. It’s an enchanting story about two orphaned magicians who are trained since infancy to compete with each other, in a magical competition shrouded in mystery centering around an enchanted circus. The two lovers, upon finding out that they are competitors, promptly fall in love. I enjoyed the hell out of it upon my first reading, but when it came time to sit down and right this review, I was totally stumped. I knew I had enjoyed it, but I couldn’t quite remember why. Much like the illusive circus that the story centers around, the pleasure of reading it had been with me in the moment, but when asked just what exactly was so great about it, I couldn’t come up with a good answer.

The answer came to me after watching a talk by the author herself, Erin Morgenstern. Morgenstern is ridiculously charming, full of self-deprecating tales of her own writing foibles. Her story of writing The Night Circus was particularly endearing; it started as an image from an entirely different story, and the image itself became so entrancing that she based a book around it. Her first draft had, as she explained, “absolutely no plot.” It was 100% florid description of the circus’ many enchantments, with zero character stories behind it. The protagonist, Celia, did not exist in her first draft of the novel. Luckily, several agents took it upon themselves to explain this to her, and agreed to take a look at the work as it progressed. Eventually, one of them signed her, and after a round or two of edits, and it sold in a week.

After the event, I purchased the book and started re-reading it for this review. And here’s the thing – it could have used a few more rounds of edits. The descriptions of the circus are indeed enchanting, as indeed are many of the characters themselves. But despite a perfect framing device: a magical circus, star-crossed lovers, and a diabolical secret – there’s not much holding it together. The magic is inconsistent, and is never sufficiently explained to readers (a death knell in fantasy, as far as I’m concerned). Celia and Marco are charming, but neither of them have enough emotional backstory to make us fully invest in their love story. The antagonists were two of the most interesting characters, but not nearly enough time is spent clarifying their characters and motivations. There’s a side character named Bailey who I think was supposed to be important, but I’m not sure why. And despite the grand nature of the central conceit of the book – two magicians, completely unaware of each other’s role in their life-and-death competition – the stakes never seemed anything but low. Indeed, these low stakes are born out in the book’s ending, which shys away from tragedy at the last minute.

So why did I enjoy reading it? Two reasons: first, the description. Morgenstern knows how to write fantasy, giving just enough description to pique the imagination, but not so much too stifle it. Her descriptions are velvet and lovely, and leave just enough of a gap for the reader to fill in with images from their own consciousness.

And the second? Well, upon further thought, it turns out that the main reason I liked The Night Circus is because I expected to. It was a book with a beguiling magical premise and a popular audience I identified with (namely, frequenters of independent bookstores who also very much enjoy Harry Potter). I wanted for it to be good, and that desire was enough to fuel my entire first reading of the book. My mind saw what it wished to see, which was a fully-fleshed out fantasy. Sadly, that initial impression didn’t bear out with further examination. The Night Circus, as it turns out, is an enjoyable book, but not a particularly good one.

Read When: you’re in the mood to shut down your critical faculties for the night and just enjoy some really great escapist description.

Recommended For: People who dabble in fantasy, but aren’t die-hard fans. Too many holes in the magical universe for actual fantasy fans.

Listen With: Low-stakes opera. Puccini, Offenbach. Stay the hell away from Wagner.

TylerDFC #CBR4 Review 19 #The Night Circus by #Erin Morgenstern

“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.”

No opening passage in some time has been as apt as this one for mood setting. You will not be expecting this book, and for a certain type of person, you may very well be as completely enraptured by it as I was. It is a difficult book to summarize and I know it has already been reviewed a few times on this Cannonball so I’m not going to go in to it again. The following is from Amazon:

Within the black-and-white striped canvas tents is an utterly unique experience full of breathtaking amazements. It is called Le Cirque des Rêves, and it is only open at night.

But behind the scenes, a fierce competition is underway—a duel between two young magicians, Celia and Marco, who have been trained since childhood expressly for this purpose by their mercurial instructors.

This is Morgenstern’s first novel but it reads as if it was written by a pro. Her characters are vividly drawn, descriptions are beautifully evocative and the story is absolutely mesmerizing. Set during the turn of the 20th century, Le Cirque des Rêves is a place full of wonders and subtle magic. The competition is not a battle so much as a trial of endurance to keep the circus operating and all of the illusions intact. As the competition wears on the lives of the magicians, the circus performers, even the visitors are all affected by the game that they have no way to escape until a victor is declared. Neither Celia or Marco know the rules of the competition nor how the winner will be named. As they begin to fall in love with each other things start to get even more complicated.

The Night Circus is the best book I have read in years and one I would call perfect. I compare it to Stephen King’s The Eyes of the Dragon, or Neil Gaiman’s American Gods. All three books perfectly balance story, characters, language, and mood and becomes something absolutely unique.

If more people would read The Night Circus and less were wasting their time with barely literate garbage like 50 Shades of Gray than the world would be an infinitely better place.


Sara Habein’s #CBR4 Review #41: The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

To say that nearly every review or mention of The Night Circus that I’ve seen has been positive understates this novel’s reception. What I have heard goes beyond general positivity and rises into full on adoration. People love this book, even some who did not expect such a reaction, and having seen very few voices of dissent, I needed to see what the fuss was about.

You will not find dissent here either, for The Night Circus is a beautiful, bewildering, and romantic tale that reminds me of the best imaginative stories told between friends.

My full review can be found on Glorified Love Letters.

Scootsa1000’s #CBR4 Review #25: The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

After waiting ages and ages for my number to come up on the library hold list, I was finally rewarded last week with my chance to read Erin Morgenstern’s The Night Circus. My book club is talking about it next week, and its been ages since I actually wanted to read one of the books that the club has picked, so I’m glad that this time I’ll be participating.  Two random things happened just before I started to read this book:

1)  I put my name down on every library list I came across — local, county, ebook, etc.  After waiting for months, I got alerts from two different libraries on the same night;  and 2) I’ve been catching up on Netflix instant TV while all of the shows I watch are on Summer vacation, and randomly watched the Torchwood episode about the traveling Night Circus on the same day I started to read the book.  Coincidence?  Luck?

Anyway, as I seem to be one of the last people in the Cannonball universe to read this book, I don’t really feel the need to get too into detail here.  I really enjoyed the story of the mysterious, magical circus and the people who ran it and lived it.  The writing was fresh and beautiful, a real treat.

I loved how the descriptions of the circus — the colors (or lack of color), the smells, the sounds — almost came to life in my mind as I was reading.  I wanted to eat caramel popcorn (and, oh! those mysterious cinnamon treats sounded pretty good, too!) and drink hot apple cider while I was reading.


My one criticism, which isn’t much of one, is that I didn’t love the scene where Celia and Marco talk to Bailey and explain the future of the circus to him.  All I could think about was the end of Willy Wonka, where Mr Wonka talks to Charlie in the Great Glass Elevator, and gives him his magical factory. I found it slightly distracting, but it didn’t change the fact that I was happy and excited for Bailey’s new life.

You can read more of my reviews on my blog.

Alli’s #CBR4 Review #21: The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

If you haven’t already read “The Night Circus” by Erin Morgenstern, what are you waiting for? I waited this long because there was a massive waiting list at the library and my book budget is negligible. I had heard quite a lot of good things about this book by other reviewers, but I let myself go in unspoiled as to the specifics and I was glad that I did.

Read the rest on my blog

Pinky’s CBRIV Book#4: The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

genericwhitegirl’s #CBR4 review #5: The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

Finally, a story about a circus that is cool. There aren’t creepy clowns or abused animals in this circus. All of the food sold at this circus is out of this world and probably doesn’t give anyone indigestion. And while there is no shortage of bizarre entertainment, the freaks in this circus have talents most other circus performers don’t…and that’s the secret of the Night Circus.

Morgenstern’s debut novel takes place in England in the 1800’s. We meet two men…The first is Prospero the Enchanter, who has natural magical abilities that he disguises as illusions for audiences. The second is the mysterious Mr. A. H. who agrees to a challenge with Prospero. They will each raise a protege to compete in a magical competition of sorts. Prospero’s protege has natural ability while Mr. A. H.’s will be taught. Unbeknownst to the proteges, they will compete against each other in this strange competition. So begins the Night Circus.

Imagine you wake up one day and see black and white circus tents set up that weren’t there the day before. No one heard the trains arrive in town, no one noticed the tents being set up, but there it is. And even stranger, the circus is only open from dusk to dawn. Instead of a main tent, there are many tents and exhibitions Too many to explore in one evening. There are performers like Celia the illusionist, Tsukiko, the contortionist and Isobelle, the fortune teller. There are experiences like the ice garden, the labryinth, or the wishing tree. And each thing you see and experience seems geniune. You don’t know how the illusionist made a person in the audience disappear, or how the contortionist fit in that glass box, but you are enchanted and find yourself obsessed with the circus.

Besides the competition between Propero and Mr. A. H.’s students, the Night Circus involves a host of other characters. Morgenstern introduces us to many of them, and they are as interesting and integral to the story as the others. We learn that although the Night Circus is a magical place, it isn’t immune to human weakness. Can the circus be sustained? Can its secrets be kept? And how will the strange competition that began it all end?

This book left me satisfied. Morgenstern is a very visual writer. She takes the time to describe everything in delicious detail and as I read, I kept seeing everything as if it were a movie – which is my hope (apparently the film rights have been sold to Summit Entertainment so maybe her visions will come to fruition). The book has a victorian, romantic, and yes, magical feel. While I’m not sure it’s an automatic pick for my year’s top five…it’s definitely a candidate.

Check out The Blist to read more reviews by genericwhitegirl.

HelloKatieO’s #CBR4 Review #11: The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

This book has been reviewed a seemingly endless number of times on CBR, so my review will be quick and painless. For more extensive reviews, check out all of the preceding reviews here.

This book is simple and beautiful. The descriptions of the circus are just enough to give you a starting point, but they let you fill in the circus with your own details, embellishments and dreams. It was an exercise in imagination for me, working through the book, trying to imagine the intricacies of the Ice Garden and the Cloud Room.

For more…

Alexis’s #CBR4 Review #10: The Night Circus, Erin Morgenstern

The Night Circus is well trodden territory here so I’ll spare you the recap and skip to right to why this is a 5-star book.

  1. The Circus itself. Dark, magical, and slightly menacing. As the sign says, “Trespassers Will Be Exsanguinated.” You believe it but willingly go regardless.
  2. The secrets are kept secret. Magic fades under harsh light and the author knows how to keep things bright by keeping them in the dark.
  3. The characters aren’t explained so much as implied. For example,  Mr. A. H— is a man so mysterious that we are never to know his name nor why he no longer casts a shadow. Yet we know that the Mr. A will stab you with a silver knife and walk on without a second thought.
  4. The world that is created in this book is one of the most original and vibrantly imagined that I have read in years.
  5. The writing borders on poetry without weighing down the plot.
  6. The romance is darkly passionate and free of cliche.

Marco kisses her as though they are the only two people in the world. The air swirls in a tempest around the, blowing open the glass doors to the garden with a tangle of billowing curtains. Every eye in the crowded ballroom turns in their direction. And the he releases her and walks away.

There are some small flaws in this book and I can understand why some would give it 4 vs. 5 stars. Some might not appreciate the fact that many of the mysteries are kept mysteries. Some might feel the characters are too distant and unrelatable. Or the ending too abrupt.

But I assert that Erin Morgenstern is a major new talent and her inaugural work is a staggering work of beautiful fiction.

llp’s #CBR IV Review 1: The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

I am very behind in my reviewing, but I finished this book in early January. Thank you to all the CBR III reviewers who recommended it – it really was an excellent book.

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