Book Review #2: The Latter Two Thirds of “The Night Circus” by Erin Morgenstern

WARNING! HERE, THERE BE SPOILERS. I will try not to ruin the whole book, and I won’t say exactly what happens to Celia and Marco, but still, there’s a good reason I’m warning you. If you have not read the book and would like to unspoiled, read no further.

The mind’s-eye candy never changed, and I wish I could say that’s the only thing that didn’t.

The character development improved a little, but mostly for the secondary characters, and mostly in the form of revelations of secrets. Honestly, I suspected about half of what was going to happen, and it could have been written with completely different characters and I probably would never have noticed. Celia and Marco headed just the way I thought they would, including how they ended the story—it was just sort of inevitable, and, in my opinion, not entirely original.

I was also unimpressed with the character deaths—though there weren’t many who were killed off (the body count was 2 by the end—not bad), their deaths seemed to have little rhyme or reason, especially the first one that occurs. While every character has their purpose or being brought into the story, it seemed like removing them does not. I think each was meant to force a character’s hand, but I just really didn’t see it. Or maybe it was to show how the circus was falling apart as Celia and Marco’s attachment grew? I’m really not sure. Either way, they didn’t seem particularly necessary.

Bringing characters in does, however, bring me to Bailey. It seemed like he was who the story was about all along—he had the most to gain or lose based on his decisions. Don’t get me wrong—Marco and Celia did have a lot to lose based on the decisions they made, but their fate just seemed so clear to me that their struggle just wasn’t as engaging. By the end of it, though, Bailey, Poppet, and Widget were the real main characters, and while the whole passing-down theme is nice and rings true, it still wasn’t that much of a surprise that things ended the way they did.

I guess there were some nice in your face/my father does not control my fate, no matter what stupid games in which he decides to use me as a pawn moments, but even so… I just wasn’t feeling it, especially not with Marco. It was never clear to me why he decides to make Lefevre forget things, other than to keep control of the circus, and his methods certainly did not endear me to him. Also, dude, stringing Isobel along when you knew it wasn’t gonna happen: NOT COOL. (I speak as one who has been burned by such behavior, so it’s probably a little more infuriating to me than to some.)

I sort of guessed Tsukiko’s identity, or at least her importance to the story, fairly early on. However, I did not suspect that Isobel’s involvement was of such a similar nature. And, given their involvement, it is remarkable to me that they are as mentally balanced as they seem. Just saying. I really did enjoy Tsukiko’s character, though. For as enigmatic as she is, she doesn’t seem bothered by much, and that’s something I’m not but wish I was. I will admit that her ability to keep calm is a little eerie, given her history, though, and I guess that’s what I find unlikable about all of the characters: they never really seem to react. They all seem like they’re wrapped in cotton and can’t move very well.

All in all, the writing of the scenery in the final two thirds of the book was not magical enough to detract from the half-successful attempt at character development. It was just a little too fleeting and uninvolved when it came to the characters, and did not particularly leave me wanting more as a result. (As far as that goes, it’s good that this novel is self-contained and not part of a larger series.) The imagery was beautiful, though a little more neglected especially in the last third in order to leave room for character development that just never quite got there for me. I’m going to flash back to first grade and do a six traits assessment, though, because giving it just one rating while trying to take everything into account will not do the book proper justice. (For those unfamiliar with the six-trait system, here’s an overview. I will not be assigning a value to presentation, as it is not one of the original six, and doesn’t really matter in this case.)

Ideas: Fantastic on the illusion and attention to detail. The overarching plot, the thing we are supposed to learn from, is highly interesting as well. However, the characters could have used more work, especially as applied to the Big Lesson, such as it were, and when this was attempted, the scenery took a back seat. 3.5/5.

Organization: A little muddy, timewise, and this made it rather confusing to follow. Also, the short chapters were just a little too clipped. (This would fall under presentation, I suppose, but it is also an organizational issue.) 3/5.

Voice: A little too focused on the scenery rather than the message, which was clear from the beginning, and so just kind of beat into the reader’s head as you went along. Very little extraneous fluff to distract the reader from this, though, and in my book that earns her credit. 3.5/5

Word Choice: Smashing. Can’t praise it enough. 5/5.

Sentence Fluency: Strikes a very good balance that very successfully lands between too brief and too long. 4.5/5

Conventions: Given that this book was doubtless edited multiple times before it was printed, it’s not entirely fair to give it a grade, but it was broken up nicely in terms of paragraphing, and it was not poorly edited by any means (I tend to keep a keen eye out for misspellings, and I’ve read several books recently that contain them after editing, so this was rather a breath of fresh air in that regard), and it does seem like the original spirit of the book was kept nicely intact after editing. 5/5.

Overall, by no means is this a bad first novel. While the character development could definitely use work (as this is her debut novel, I will happily give her the benefit of the doubt and trust that it will get better), I feel that she has the rest of this writing thing down-pat, and I would love to see more imagination-candy from her.

Book Review #1: 1st Third of “The Night Circus”

I’ve wanted to read “The Night Circus” by Erin Morgenstern for quite some time now. I’m only a third of the way in, but I have to say, it’s pretty brilliantly written. I did almost put it down in the beginning because it is emotionally brutal at times (especially considering its premise is using humans as pawns in a game meant to entertain the players), but the concept of the circus itself is fascinating and the imagery is dazzling. It makes me want to attend a Cirque du Soleil performance or go see a magic show or something. The only thing really lacking thus far is the character development of the leads, which I am hoping will pick up as the love story develops, but the imagery almost makes you forget that you want to know these shadow-in-the-night-as-of-yet figures. Oh, Erin Morgenstern, you play this game very well…

Now, for a quick plot summary up to the chapter entitled “Chaperoned” (p. 158 of the paperback):

A cold-hearted illusionist by the stage name of Prospero is suddenly delivered a child–his daughter–after the woman who bore her committed suicide. (Seriously, this is what you start with?!) Seeing that she has inherited his illusionist abilities, which are indeed magical/paranormal in this universe, he decides to train her as his pawn in a game he plays with another magician. They’re very shadowy about the terms, but I surmise it is to see who can produce the better illusionist. He drills her and drills her in the art, to the point of torturing her, once shattering her wrist so that she must heal it with her abilities. He seems to care nothing for her, and through a trick gone awry, turns transparent and must have Celia make her debut earlier than it seems he had planned, though he does follow her as a sort of ghost. It is at this point Celia claims she is married, and, with Marco’s skill with binding, and his master binding him with a ring earlier, it seems fairly clear who she is married to, though these two have not yet met.

We are also introduced to Prospero’s counterpart, a magician by the stage name of Alexander, who finds an orphan to raise as his pawn by means of isolating him and making him essentially learn by rote memorization the arts of illusion. This young man, Marco, grows up to help Alexander’s associate (Maybe? It is unclear…) establish the Night Circus, though Lefevre has no idea of Marco’s origins as an illusionist. Celia comes to audition for the part of the illusionist, and wins it brilliantly, and thus, the Night Circus is established.

During this time, we also meet several other players, among them, a boy by the name of Bailey, who sneaks onto the circus grounds on a dare by his older sister. This is strictly forbidden and a sign proclaims that any outsider caught on circus grounds between dawn and dusk will be exsanguinated. A little red-headed girl catches him and shows him out, giving him her glove as his token to prove that he completed the dare. Later on, he ventures back.

Marco has met a young woman by the name of Isobel, and clearly they are more than friends at this point, though as Marco grows more consumed by the Night Circus, he ignores her more and more, especially after the grand success of the grand opening of the Night Circus.

Now, some time is passed and I’m in a bit of a lull, but we’ll see how the rest of the book goes as Marco and Celia are doubtless drawn inexorably to each other and everything unravels around them (if the summary on the back is to be believed, anyway)… ‘Til then!