The Night Circus was tipped as one of the debuts of 2011, and it is no fault of Morgenstern's that I took til 2012 to read it; once I started the novel, it was finished within just over 24 hours.  There appears to be a slight fashion for circuses at the moment in genre circles (see, for instance, Mechanique), and these two very different but also very similar stories demonstrate why: circuses allow the writer a lot of freedom...

The plot of The Night Circus is told in a temporally disjointed, but still clear and, indeed, chronological manner; nothing needs later elements to make sense, though some make a new sense as later events are told.  It concerns the magical contest between Marco and Celia, taught by two different mages and, as children unable to really understand the competition or what it is they are being bound to, drawn into the world of deadly and dangerous magics; it's a romance, in fact, between those two characters, and also (inevitably?) a tragedy.  But it's the telling of how we come from men arranging a strange and magical contest over the head of Celia to the tragic, beautiful end of the novel that really makes Morgenstern's debut shine; that, and the characters she creates as she weaves the illusion that binds the reader.

The Night Circus does have one of the most fantastic casts of any novel I have read for a while.  It's not doing anything particularly revolutionary here - especially for YA, which this book is pegged as (though I'd not hesitate to recommend it to anyone over the age of, oh, comprehension); but the characters are so fully realised, so individual, and so willing to fight against their roles that the writing makes them breathe and live, and makes us laugh and cry with them.  The rivalry and romance between Celia and Marco is so powerfully and beautifully portrayed, the one arising from the other and both being so influenced by their essential characters, so similar and yet also very different, that the reader can't help but care for them and care what happens to them; and despite the large cast of the novel, the reader knows every character so well, because they are each so vivid and unique, so well-portrayed, that they leap off the cage, from the mysterious Mr. A.H-- to Isobel via the twins and Bailey.

The plot is equally well-handled; never losing sight of the contest, Morgenstern doesn't always foreground it, so its pervasive influence is felt in little, rather than grand, ways.  Told episodically and out of order, we're also treated to a way of storytelling that avoids simplicity in favour of complexity, but not obscurity; it's still very linear, and allows us both to explore the wonderous, mysterious and strange Night Circus as well as follow our characters in their adventures and magic, and in which not a moment is wasted.  Everything builds up the atmosphere of the strange and wonderful, and also ups the tension; by the end of the novel, we're at a snapping point, and The Night Circus' tragic resolution was both inevitable and beautiful.

I really, really enjoyed this book, and I'd highly recommend The Night Circus to anyone and everyone; get a copy and read it.  Brilliant, beautiful, and so incredibly well characterised, this really did blow me away...


Squeaking of the GrimSqueaker....

February 2012

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