Saturday, July 7, 2012

Review: The Night Circus

Title: The Night Circus
Author: Erin Morgenstern
Genre: Fantasy/Speculative Fiction
My Rating: ★★★★★  (more like 4.5 stars, actually)


The VIP pass comes in the form a 384-page noir fairytale called The Night Circus, and it spilled from the pen-point of literary Ringmistress Erin Morgenstern.

Flipping the pages was very much like stepping firsthand into the striped tents of the nocturnal Le Cirque des Rêves, or the Circus of Dreams. The vibrant carnival scenes most of us are familiar with—full of colorful clowns, confetti, and confections—are diluted into a non-chromatic world of wonders. Caramel and chocolate scents will waft to greet you at the gates. Once you surrender yourself in the swirl of black and white, you can float and leap dreamily in a vertical labyrinth of clouds, visit a menagerie of breathing paper animals, or marvel at a garden magically carved from unthawing ice. Every tent contains a treat like no other.

Fueling this feast for the senses is a pair of two young magicians—Celia and Marco—who are bound to a dangerous duel of skill and endurance where there can only be one victor. With the circus as the game board, everyone who performs with the two are unwittingly swept into the ever-perilous match…which is pushed a notch higher the danger ladder when the competitors tumble headfirst into a star-crossed love.

Almost dizzying in its beauty, I’d be lying if I say The Night Circus did not take my breath away. Morgenstern’s prose, which is festooned with rich imagery, makes every sentence a joy to read. You’ll think that something portrayed in monochrome will not come out alive, but the author’s obvious love for a sweet concoction of words inflated the atmosphere and the setting. I simultaneously commend and envy her imagination! The way she unfolds every magic is almost cinematic, the kind you think will be produced if Neil Gaiman will collaborate with Tim Burton in a carnival flick.

I liked how Morgenstern shifted between third person and second person point of view. The transmission is not exactly seamless, but being given a personal portion of the book made me feel like a legit rêveur.

The book is far from perfect, though; in fact, I think this is one of the few books with copious flaws that I am willing to overlook just so I can squeeze it in my “favorites” shelf. Special effects aside (which occupies a sizable chunk of this book), the plot comes out a tad fragile and formulaic. The world of literature is no stranger to sorcerers’ matches after all, and the forbidden romance angle is quite predictable. I initially did not even care about the characters—Celia and Marco felt like cardboard cutouts to me most of the time, though they did kind of struck a chord with me on the latter part of the novel.

Neither driven by plot nor by character, The Night Circus deviates from my usual favorites, yet somehow, I know I loved it. The reason for this I found near the end: it’s the charm of ordinary love between two people who grew up not knowing what real love is, and the way it blooms amidst the extraordinary nest of their competition. If Morgenstern delved more deeply into the emotional aspect of the novel early on, I think I’d love it right away.

Over all I still think it’s a magnificent novel…in a “guilty pleasure” kind of way, if you know what I mean. Shrouded with enigma and magic, a bit lumpy with blemishes but generally intelligent, The Night Circus already classified itself as one of the most remarkable novels of 2012 for me. 

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