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Words of a Bibliophile

"It's only words, and words are all I have, to take your heart away." —Bee Gees

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

The Night Circus - Erin Morgenstern

In this debut novel about a magical circus, Morgenstern showcases her laudable skills in describing objects, places and atmosphere. She makes the circus come alive right in front of our eyes. But imagery alone is not enough to make a good novel, and in the end I wasn't satisfied with a lot of things.

First of all, I wish there was more action. The book jacket says Celia and Marco are involved in a fierce competition, a duel, but instead of actual magical duels, which I had been waiting for all throughout the book, we have them creating magical tents to outwit each other. Literally years go by and the only developments in the competition are new tents created here and there. I don't know, I suppose I was hoping they would suddenly whip out their wands and shout "Expelliarmus!" or something.

(Edit on Oct 30, 2013: I just watched Christopher Nolan's movie The Prestige, and it was mostly what I had hoped this novel would be like. Two magicians competing with each other but with actual confrontation and more action than Celia and Marco.)

I also thought that Bailey taking over the circus came out of nowhere. It felt like the only reasons he was chosen were because he loved the circus (but all the reveurs loved it too), was unsatisfied with his life on the farm, didn't know what to do with his future, and because Poppet was certain he was the one to take the job. I thought it just seemed... convenient that he was there to take over when Celia couldn't do it anymore. He didn't even show any signs of having actual interest in magic, apart from the fascination that all reveurs felt when they visited the circus.

Maybe I got the sense of things being "convenient" because Morgenstern wanted to create a somewhat happy ending for Celia and Marco, something that would allow them to coexist together despite the fact that only one person in the competition could be left standing. Hence they lived on in the circus, though in a different plane, and the circus was also allowed to go on.

I thought it was an interesting twist that Prospero had actually been Alexander's student, although their conduct throughout the book didn't rouse any sympathy. They came across to me as having a kind of god complex by playing with their students' (and in Prospero's case, his daughter's) lives in the name of competition.

I did like Poppet and Widget, though. The other supporting characters were also quite interesting -- I thought there was a hint that Chandresh was gay and has fallen for Marco, but that wasn't dealt with further. That was also the case with the clockmaker's feelings for Celia, and the side story of one of the Burgess sisters and the architect.

(show spoiler)

I was going to give the book four stars for the description and for keeping me interested enough to finish it, but the reasons above made me downgrade it to three. Overall, kudos for the concept, imagery and world-building, but the story was not very satisfying for me.