Not since 'The Secret History' have I rated a book 5 stars, but 'The Night Circus' is everything magical, equivocal, majestic, dreamy and perfect. Every time I turned the page something whimsical and metaphorical floated from them. This book is a must read.
The circus arrives without warning. No announcements precede it. It is simply there, when yesterday it was not. 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. Unbeknownst to them both, this is a game in which only one can be left standing. Despite the high stakes, Celia and Marco soon tumble headfirst into love, setting off a domino effect of dangerous consequences, and leaving the lives of everyone, from the performers to the patrons, hanging in the balance.
What I most love about this book is that the interpretation of events surrounding the Le Cirque des Rêves, The Circus of Dreams, is completely left up to the reader. The writing was completely lyrical. Was the entire story a dream? Whose dream? I would have finished this book in a few days if not for well...life....LOL because I was completely entranced!! The two main characters, Celia Bowen and Marco Alisdair, do have an intense romance. However, before you write this book off as another sappy romance novel, I assure you that Morgenstern writes their romance with all the flaws and hiccups of any torrid love affair between two people. The emotions and dialogue between the two of them is very authentic with heartbreak and distrust in tow.
Celia's mom committed suicide when she was a very young girl. She was sent to live with her father Hector Bowen or more famously known as Prospero the Enchanter, a world renowned magician. I did not like Celia's father from the very beginning and my dislike was solidified as the story began to unravel. He did not seem to have very much interest in his young daughter until she displayed her magical abilities at the age of five. He was obsessed with his fame and a bit of an opportunist. Over the years, his teaching method's were extreme including having Celia starve herself at one point. We will revisit him later.
The most mysterious character in this book is Mr. "Alexander". He was Celia's father's mentor and teacher. In the beginning of the story, Hector challenges his mentor in a competition that has been the basis of their rivalry. See? An opportunist. He uses his daughter to shame his mentor and win a longstanding competition. The competition involves putting two "students of magic" against one another to see not who "wins" but who survives. The other student who is her opponent is another protegè of Mr. Alexander, Marco.
When Celia turns 18, she auditions to be the circus' Illusionist. During this time she becomes the foreground of the circus by creating magical tents all the while Marco was doing the same. This is how they discovered they were one another's opponent. Celia was torn in terms of all the responsibilities that came with maintaining the circus of dreams. She wanted to run away with the love of her life. Especially after realizing that one of the rules of the challenge was to stay with the circus, but she vows to stay as long as she could be with Marco.
Let's go back to Celia's selfish father, shall we? Hector plagued her life and tried to control her. Celia's very good friend, Herr Friedrick Thiessen, the circus clockmaker was accidentally murdered by Chandresh, the circus' manic producer, who was willing to push the limits to make it a success. Celia's father spoke to her and berated her about the way she handled things every chance he got. He spoke to many including Chandresh who in a hypnotic state, brought on by the ghostly Hector, attempts to murder Hector's nemesis, Alexander, but murders Theissen instead.
Tsukiko, the circus contortionist, was one of my favorite characters in the story. She is a master at being vague and keeping secrets. She was also a protegè of Mr. Alexander and took part in the competition many years ago. There was a silent wisdom to her. Even though she encouraged Celia and Marco to go their separate ways to preserve the competition and the circus, there was something likable about her. Celia was crumbling under the pressure and actually thought about committing suicide so that Marco could win the challenge. I thought this was riveting considering her mom had done the same. It was never explained why Celia's mom took her life, but I imagined the reasons being paralleled.
I also found the mention of the sign stating that the circus would be "closed for inclement weather" intriguing; not so much the sign itself, but the repetitiveness of it. It was a foretelling like most moments in the story. Marco was intending to take his life as well in order to do what Celia was intending to do for him, end the challenge. Tsukiko was to be a part of this because she was the keeper of the secret. She believed the competition was sacred and thought Celia failed in keeping the circus independent.
The ending was explosive. Literally. Tsukiko throws her lighter into the bonfire, Celia runs into Marco's arms and they disappear into some sort of oblivion; an unconsciousness; the space between life and death. As they reunite on the other side of a distorted reality, Celia and Marco realize that someone has to care for the circus, enter Bailey Clarke. I loved how Bailey's little moments throughout the story lead up to his pivotal moment. He was dreamer. He wanted to be a part of something he didn't understand, but he felt such a connection to the circus. Isn't that the story of most dreamers? The circus itself could have very well been a dream; the dream of any one of the characters in it. A palpable world for some, a dream or altered state for others.
This book was a page turner and I highly, HIGHLY recommend you read it. I seriously want to read more whimsical, magical, adult, historical fiction novels because of this book. It was brilliant and the language was beautiful. I honestly don't have one negative comment regarding this book. The characters were fleshed out perfectly as well as the pacing. My bookstagram friend @readerintherye described this book as 'inception' and I couldn't agree more. Dreams within dreams within dreams.