Book Review: The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

The Night Circus book cover

I found out about The Night Circus, through, of all things, Fallen London (a.k.a. Echo Bazaar). Failbetter Games created a gorgeous and intriguing promotional game for this book, and I couldn’t help but become curious about it.

Plot Overview

The Night Circus‘ chapters alternate between two related yet distinct storylines. One follows Celia Bowen and Marco, two young magicians raised to compete with one another in a duel. Celia is the daughter of a famed illusionist, Hector Bowen. Hector is forced to care for Celia after her mother commits suicide, and he only becomes interested in her after discovering her innate magical abilities. Alexander, Hector’s friend and fellow magician, scoffs at Celia’s abilities and claims he can train anyone to be just as powerful. The two decide to arrange a competition between Celia and a student of Alexander’s choosing. Alexander finds a young boy named Marco at an orphanage, and trains him to become an adept magician. Celia and Marco know nothing about each other at first, but go through with their competition at  Le Cirque des Reves, a traveling circus powered by their magic.

The other storyline is about a boy named Bailey and his encounters with the Le Cirque des Reves and its performers. It shows what happened years after Celia and Marco concluded their duel.

The book also little chapters, written in first person, that allow readers to experience the circus for themselves.


The circus arrives without warning.

Without warning, indeed. This book took me by surprise, especially since I found it right next to Twilight and other poorly-written “romance” novels for young adults. Morgenstern’s writing drew me into the circus so effortlessly I sped through the first few chapters in less time than I expected I would. I initially found it odd that the book is written in present tense, since fiction is usually written in past tense. The story’s second person chapters and the use of present tense throughout the book allowed me to become more involved with the story and its characters. When it comes to setting and atmosphere, The Night Circus is out of this world. The way Morgenstern described the circus’ attractions and its overall feel conjured clear images in my head as I kept reading.

Reading the book was like slowly opening a gift box with layers of elaborate wrapping, only to be disappointed with what was actually inside. Unfortunately, Morgenstern seems to have spent too much effort on sets and costumes that she sacrificed story and character development. The book’s cover advertises the tragic love story between two fated rivals, but I found that this love story was its weak point.  The romantic relationship between Celia and Marco had its shining moments, but for the most part, it felt forced and ill-timed. Instead of feeling sympathy for the star-crossed lovers, I found myself clucking my tongue at their actions after they discovered their feelings for one another. Toward the end, I was left wondering if their relationship was worth all the effort and sacrifice they put into it.

The same doubt pervaded my mind as I read about the supporting characters and their own roles in the story. There was always something missing for me, something that could make the characters or the story’s events more believable than they are. Reading the book made me feel like I was slowly opening a gift box with layers of elaborate wrapping, only to be disappointed with what was actually inside.

Final Verdict

This book has so much potential I felt my heart break for it after I finished reading its last few paragraphs. I wouldn’t say I regret reading it, nor would I stop anyone who wants to give it a try. The book still has its merits, but don’t expect it to be something truly fantastic or epic.

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