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The Night Circus
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1,286 of 1,361 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon June 28, 2011
Format: HardcoverVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
It's a rare book that can live up to advance buzz of the sort "The Night Circus" has been getting. I had read the author plugs, the publisher's notes, the touting of film deals, and I had wondered what could really be so special about this novel to justify the hoopla.

Within a few pages, I found out. This book is MAGICAL. The publisher's blurb doesn't really do the plot justice. Here's a modified one: There are two illusionists, chosen at a young age to be bound to one another in a contest that will span their lives until one wins. They have been given no rules, other than that they must perform in some way. They have no idea how one wins, or what one must do to win. Their sponsors in the contest create the circus as the arena for their players. One will travel with it, the other will not. Their story is interspersed with the perspectives of several other characters within or affiliated with the circus, all of whom enrich the plot and provide a deeper look at the workings of the circus and those it touches.

I love the structure of this book. Too often a book with split narratives lingers too long on one or another of the characters, to the point that the reader forgets the other tale being told. Not with "The Night Circus". Most chapters are less than 5 pages long. Any character whose story you long to continue will return again soon. There are no boring narratives. Each is carefully constructed to yield more detail or nuance to the contest, the circus, or the sinister dealings of the competition sponsors. There are many two-page intervals designed to lead the reader through a tent or aspect of the carnival as if the reader were a patron on a tour.

The prose is beautiful - not too verbose, not too simplistic. Morgenstern has the rare ability to describe her fantastical imaginings in a way that is easily accessible. Reading "The Night Circus", I felt like I could see the contents of the tents, feel the fluffiness of the cloud maze, smell the caramel wafting in the air, gaze into the pool of tears, smell the scents in the table of jars. The author makes her creation real. She does so so well that I think the film will be a disappointment - no production company could make real the fantastical things Morgenstern makes me picture in my head.

The romance is gentle and slow-burning. There are no bodice-ripper sex scenes, no overwrought proclamations of undying passion. The romance between the two illusionists is a motivator of events, not the event itself. By sparing us the gory details, the author creates a fairy-tale atmosphere for her love story, a theme alluded to by several of the characters throughout the novel. This is a story about stories. Each character is equal parts vague and filled in. The reader never feels as if a character is fully revealed, but each has a magical quality fairy tale characters. Morgenstern skillfully translates fantastical, fairy tale elements into a world where fairy tales are unexpected, and dull reality has taken hold (the book begins in the late 19th century in post-industrialized England where the population has seen magic disappear in a haze of coal burning factories and speeding locomotives - magic is now whatever we can mechanize in the name of progress). The author incorporates the 'seen it all' attitude of the people into her narrative - the people are mesmerized by a combination of magic and mechanics, illusions designed for their world. And yet the novel never devolves in 'steampunk' silliness. There is an air of timelessness that pervades every description, so that the circus can move from era to era untouched by the specifics of that time.

The novel approaches what could conventionally be called its climax about 40 pages from the end. But Morgenstern has created so many characters, so many different narratives to care about, that the resolution of the illusionists' contest has become simply one of many stories. I was grateful for the remaining 40 pages to tie together the other narratives intertwined with the illusionists' story. This was altogether a beautiful novel, and I was sad to see it end. Like the rêveurs, I wanted to travel along with the circus for awhile longer.
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758 of 847 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon September 4, 2011
Format: HardcoverVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
To say I had conflicting thoughts on this book would be an understatement. To make it a bit easier to express what I thought of it, I think it would be easier to divide my star rating into two; for the first half of the book, I give it two stars. For the latter half, I give it four.

I began reading this with very high expectations, which probably contributed to the major disappointment I felt fifty to one hundred pages in. From the glowing reviews, one even comparing it to Harry Potter, I was expecting to be riveted. And...I wasn't. The first few chapters were promising. Breathtaking descriptions and imagery, and mysterious characters, brief scenes with magical undertones, and an intriguing set-up to the conflict had me thinking the following chapters would be fast-paced. Not so.

This book dragged painfully in the middle, piling details and uninteresting characters on top of each other until I was literally counting down the pages. This is not to say that the fantastic imagery and description stopped; it didn't. Morgenstern's figurative language and imagery are top-notch and enchanting, fitting of the visually captivating circus she creates.

My main problem with the narrative were the characters. Good god, the characters. The protagonists, Celia and Marco, were as flat as cardboard. I didn't understand either of them, despite the surplus pages featuring their boring interactions. Maybe this is being nitpicky, but it bothers me when characters laugh too much in dialogue. "Celia laughs" seemed to be the main reaction of our heroine, in every scene with dialogue. For one, it's tedious after a while. For another, it's almost like the author is pointing out the wittiness of her own dialogue. Also, Marco and Celia were just too...pretentious and self-important. Celia transformed from a quiet, abused child who watched her mother die to a radiant, confident woman possessing both beauty and social graces, who spends more time showing off her dresses than I cared to read about. And Marco was just pompous.

As for the supporting characters, almost everyone is just too cryptic. Tsukiko smokes a lot and smiles, but who is she? No idea. Same with Prospero and the grey-suited man. We're given too many characters with all the answers, who don't really reveal anything, despite having excessive page space to do so.

Some of the characters I did find interesting, although they still could have used a bit more fleshing out, were Poppet and Widget. I almost wished the book had been written entirely about them, because their sibling relationship was much more interesting than any other character dynamic. Bailey's perspective, at first out of place, really grew on me as the story continued.

Now for the ending. (Maybe spoiler-ish?) I liked it. I thought it was appropriate for these characters, and I was especially happy with Poppet and Widget's roles. Bailey, too, I guess, although he was kind of just convenient. I didn't really understand the whole "it's all about timing" bit. I loved the ship made of books scene--definitely my favorite Celia/Marco interaction, if for the setting, not the characters.

I may be being overly critical of the two main characters. Mostly I grew frustrated with the absurd amount of useless chapters--this book could have easily been cut down by one hundred pages, maybe more. Although I was expecting more than I got from this book, but that does not diminish the quality of the imagery. I liked the imagination of the different tents, although the second-person point-of-view felt a bit too intrusive at points. Using "you" should really be more for detached observation, in my opinion, not specific actions and choices, because obviously not everyone reacts the same.

Before I get too nit-picky, I think I'm comfortable with rating this three stars. "It's OK" fits what I felt about this book perfectly. My early frustration was mostly appeased by the ending, and I'm glad it left off on a good note. I probably won't be picking up anything by this author again, especially if it's of comparable length, but I may just go see the movie if it has the book ship scene.
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323 of 379 people found the following review helpful
on July 31, 2011
Format: HardcoverVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
This book knocked my socks off!

"The circus arrives without warning ... The towering tents are striped in black and white ... No color at all ... the black sign painted in white letters ... reads: Opens at night fall / Closes at dawn. 'What kind of circus is only open at night?' people ask...

Le Cirque des Reves

...The Circus of Dreams."

This is hands down the best book I've read in years. I want to use all the cliché reviewer terms like "astounding debut" and "richly imagined" and perhaps even - heaven forbid - "tour de force"!

Some people will call this book magical realism. I will not. For me, it's flat out magical.

There is a lot of descriptive detail in this book, but none if it is superfluous. The circus Morgenstern has created is astonishing, and she conjures it beautifully with her words. There are no other books I would compare this to, but if I had to pick a mood to compare, it would be to Murakami. The sense you get while reading is so encompassing I felt jolted when I'd look away from the text and find that I was in my home.

Katherine Dunn said it perfectly, this book has a "leisurely but persistent suspense." I wanted to savor every word, but couldn't wait to get to the end.

Even though it is couched in the context of magic, this book contains one of the best descriptions of physical (romantic) chemistry I've ever read. What is chemistry if not magic?

I wish I could emphatically state that this book is for everybody, but it isn't. I think of readers I know well ... My step-father will love it, my mother might, my father won't. Then again, this book is so surprising, I could be completely wrong.

For me, it was flawless.

Bon Reves.
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130 of 156 people found the following review helpful
on October 3, 2011
Format: Kindle EditionVerified Purchase
I'm absolutely perplexed here... where has all the of the hype surrounding this book come from? I've never felt compelled to write a review for anything on Amazon before, and I may not again. But I have to add my input here because I feel completely confused by all the newspaper reviews and the media praise surrounding this book's release. I was dazzled by the excitement, so I bought this after obtaining a sample on my Kindle, and was convinced it would be an entertaining story based on that short passage. But as a few other reviewers mentioned, the story completely falters after those beginning chapters.

The author seems driven to the point of obsession with visual descriptions, which are extremely beautiful and sensory. I was entranced with some of the scenery, fragrances, sounds, and effects. The author should have extended these carefully rendered details to her characters, but instead she leaves the reader with a superficial impression of every single character in the book. As I continued to read, I hoped I might warm to any of the characters, but there is really nothing to care about.


The two main characters, Celia and Marco, could have been stamped out of any number of different genres that feature a sodden romance. Their dialogue, connection, and passion are tepid and uninspired at best. They bleat at one another, first in a failed effort to establish some tension and distrust between the two, later in sudden, unaccountable declarations of love. The only qualities each are enraptured of in the other? Their "magical" abilities, skills, talents, or whatever you choose to call it.

Marco is sly and weak. He uses his first interest, Isobel, without offering more than a token apology. His employer, Chandresh, is also swept aside in Marco's quest to achieve his ends. Marco uses Chandresh for over a decade, living in his home, dolling out his money, etc. Finally the day comes when a now alcoholic Chandresh confronts his employee, and what does the valiant Marco do? Mess with Chandresh's mind (which has already taken a few reality hits) and hand him another bottle of liquor. I'm sorry but how am I supposed to hope for this man to actually have a happy ending with his love interest?

Not that his love interest is much better. Celia is a ragdoll, happy to take verbal abuse from her father, content to lie to anyone and everyone, and ready to be a pawn in the game she's thrown into. Poor, downtrodden Celia. Her finger hurts when she tries to break free from her commitment, so obviously she shouldn't pursue as many means of escape as possible. No, she should just start weaving her noose right now.

Mind you, neither of the two lovers take extreme measures to try and break away from their entrapment. They simply continue to make grand gestures within the confines of their environment. Both Celia and Marco allow most of their important choices to be made for them. Celia cries to her father to free her because she loves Marco, Marco cries to his caretaker to free him because he loves Celia. And that's it.

These are pretty characters who live in a remarkably pretty world with only an awkward attempt at mystery and drama to keep the story plowing along. The dialogue feels very immature despite the attempts to disguise it as intellectual and restrained. Many times I felt like it was plucked from a soap opera. There's no real fight to the death here. The opponents simply create homages to the other while driving themselves insane until one or the other decides to commit suicide apparently. Or unless one of them just caves, concedes, hands the other a "you're better than I am" badge? Mystical and romantic. Really.

The pace of the entire book flows sedately, never altering its rhythm. There's no climax or compulsive page-turning appeal. I held on as long as I did because I hate leaving a book unfinished, and also because I clung to the hope that a spectacular ending was waiting in the wings.

At the end, many of the characters tumble into their situations through no choice of their own, simply handed their future with a bright red bow and they all simply accept it. The circus has killed two people, driven a few mad, caused torment to a variety of characters, but it's pretty and mystical. There's no real repercussions for any of the characters who purposely cause death and torment. All of the circus's members are supporting players for Celia and Marco, entrapped by this alternate reality, yet those that are aware of it don't seem to truly mind. Even Isobel, someone who could reasonably be forgiven for striking out at either Marcus or Celia, cannot possibly do anything or hate anyone because Celia is "nice." Marco and Celia TRULY love each other, so Isobel walks away with a "hey, Marco, be happy because you deserve it" attitude. The circus is "home" to its members, so they, too, are ok with staying within its world and serving Marco and Celia's love affair. And the reason behind this game is absolutely absurd and superficial as well. The manner in which Marco and Celia's story is concluded is truly awful. This has been done before, and much better.

Despite most of the flaws, this does have a light charm. Mainly in the aforementioned descriptive passages. But it feels like a decorative story at best. I can see how a movie could create some stunning visuals with this, but good luck with the characters.
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43 of 50 people found the following review helpful
Format: HardcoverVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
The Night Circus starts with two magicians of the highest caliber entering into a contest of sorts. They each pick a child to train in their art. The children will grow up always trying to one-up each other until there is a winner. The venue for the game is a traveling circus that opens at night and closes at dawn called Le Cirque des Reves. The catch is that neither of the opponents really know the rules of the game or what it takes to win. They also have to find out who their opponent is on their own.

It's hard for me to describe the way I felt while reading this book. I guess the closest I can come is to say I felt like I was dreaming the whole time. The writing is very simplistic, yet almost beautiful. The circus setting, which is nearly the entire book, is completely black and white. I think that added to the dreamlike quality of the story. I found myself wishing often that Le Cirque des Reves actually existed. The author made it something I wanted to see. I wanted to be among the black and white striped tents and see the white bonfire. I wanted to walk through the ice garden. I wanted to see the human statues. I wanted to be a reveur (people so enchanted with Les Cirque des Reves that they follow it from place to place).

This is not a book for everyone. I've seen this book described as a romance. It is not. There is a love story, but it's almost secondary. If you're looking for magic and fantasy along the lines of Harry Potter, this is not the book for you either. The magic is there, but it's a different kind of magic. The book also requires some suspension of disbelief. If you can't do that, you won't be able to fully enjoy the story.
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42 of 49 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon September 19, 2011
Format: HardcoverVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
I was first made aware of Erin Morgenstern's "The Night Circus" when I heard that David Heyman (producer of the Harry Potter films) had chosen it as his next project. As a hugh HP fan and someone who has great respect for Heyman's taste and sensibilities, I jumped at the chance to read the book when it became available through Amazon's Vine Program. Sad to say, I have been greatly disappointed. Things start well enough -- Morgenstern knows how to whet our appetites with the mysterious, magical goings-on -- but after 75 pages...then 100...then close to 200 pages one is left thinking, "When do we leave the midway and get to The Big Top?" Things have certainly happened (the circus has opened, a magical competition has begun, people have fallen in love, a character has died) but more than halfway through the book, there's no sense whatsoever of where it's heading. Morgenstern seems more interested in describing things (acts of magic, clothing, dinner party menus) than in constructing a suspenseful, involving storyline. (The constant jumping back and forth between time frames is also unnecessarily confusing.) Such a prolonged set-up wouldn't be so bad if Morgenstern were a better writer, one whose prose were as rich, delightful and transcendent as the circus she describes ad infinitum. She's certainly not a bad writer -- her dialogue is quite good -- but she doesn't seem to know when to put down the pen, so to speak. Whole chapters of the book could have been excised without in any way affecting the plot (what little there is of it).

I also can't say that I was much involved with the characters in any way. Marco and Celia, our star-crossed, magical lovers are particularly devoid of interest. We're told what they do, how they feel, but get no sense of them as living, breathing human beings. They're archetypes in a colossal romance/morality tale of good magic vs. bad that I found fun for a while, but ultimately a waste of time, despite things heating up in the book's second half. (As one character says towards the end, "I am not terribly invested in the outcome.") Not that I was looking for deep literary meaning, by the way -- when I want Tolstoy I'll read Tolstoy -- but popular entertainment should have the page-turning momentum and energy of a great roller coaster ride. "The Night Circus" is instead like a gorgeous, slow carousel that goes round and round, ultimately repetitive and getting absolutely nowhere. I can see what attracted Heyman to the project -- the book is written in the style of a screenplay, and the images will make for some fantastic cinema -- but there's no there there. "The Night Circus" is all flash and illusion, style minus substance, a travelling flea circus when one is wishing for the "stupendous spectacle" of The Greatest Show on Earth.
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39 of 46 people found the following review helpful
on October 3, 2011
Format: Hardcover
This book seemed to have everything I personally love, late 19th century setting, a circus, illusionists, and a duel. For the first 50 or so pages, I was very interested. Halfway through, I was wondering what was missing, or what was wrong. By the end, I had buyer's remorse (should've waited for paperback...). I was drawn to this novel partially because it was NOT advertised as YA, yet if I picked this up without knowing its genre, I'd have easily pinned it as YA for reasons that I list in the Cons section.

This review is long, but I couldn't help but be frustrated about this novel after finishing it (and like I said, buyer's remorse).

- Setting and Description: Erin Morgenstern creates a circus that most readers (including myself) will want to go to. Her writing and description of every setting in the book was very well written and never got too lengthy. I personally enjoyed her description of Widget's tent of bottles to be my favorite, as well as the brief descriptions of her guiding the reader through the circus. She creates a very lush and interesting world, sometimes too perfect to be taken seriously (this IS turn of the century London, they were not exclusively made of cafes and richly-furnished flats). Also: if I had to read one more description about one of Celia's endless amount of dresses and how beautiful it was, I was about to throw the book.

- Premise: The overall idea of the novel is difficult not to find interesting if a reader enjoys historical fiction, fantasy, or romance. In a world where most best-sellers either include vampires, werewolves, or anything of the like, Morgenstern's novel is a breath of fresh air even if you didn't necessarily like the book.

- Magic: The summary of this novel talks about a competition, illusionists, and what goes on "behind the smoke and mirrors". Personally, I thought that this implied that there would be no actual "magic" in this book, just illusion. Yet tea cups and other random junk gets broken all the time just to be instantly restored. Celia, a main character, talks about being able to heal herself and others with magic on several occasions. As I read through the book, the idea of magic in this novel became less intriguing and more like a deus ex machina. A side character realizes something important about one of the main characters? That's ok, wipe their memory with magic. Want to stay alive for thousands of years? Do it with magic. It seems like one of the novel's main features is the one thing that keeps it from making any sense. This is one of the novel's features that makes me believe that it's more suited as YA. If performing magic had any sort of consequence towards its users, it would've balanced out a lot of the problems of this book. In Morgenstern's novel, illusion isn't just playing tricks on a person's mind, it's creating and fixing tangible things with no consequence. The fact that so many main characters are magicians (I'm sorry- illusionists) while the properties of magic are NEVER explained is frustrating.

- The Duel: Straight out, there is never any true explanation as to why Prospero and Alexander are having this competition. If Prospero and Alexander's motives were revealed to just be "we were bored" and they loved to toy with people would have sufficed (would've been amusing, too). By the end of the novel, their intentions are still very vague and still give no true insight of their motives (which is a shame, because they would have made much more interesting characters). While the idea of the duel was intriguing at first, by the time any important details are given about it, you're well more than halfway through the book. It seems like the game is meant to just be the conduit for Marco and Celia's eventual romance. The nature of the competition is kept in the dark for too long and makes it easy for a reader to stop caring.

- Romance: Another selling point of the book is its inevitable romance between two characters that are pitted against each other before they even meet. Yet the romance between Marco and Celia is very superficial, having been created out of their "instant attraction" that occurs when they first see each other and feel their magical powers (or something like that. As previously noted, I have NO idea how magic worked in this novel...). They don't go through any important character development together besides Celia saying "We can't be together" and Marco not being able to keep his hands away from her waist (did anyone else catch that?). Overall, I was not convinced that they were experiencing true love, but that foolish young-love that is romanticized and legitimized in story-telling because "They were meant to be together! Nothing else matters!"

- Characters: No one ever really went through major character development throughout this story, except maybe Bailey. Celia and Marco were nonsensically different from their young incarnations at the beginning of the novel to their sappy, romantic adult versions. For example: How did Celia start as a shy, scared little girl who witnessed her mother's suicide (and was most probably verbally abused by her father) turn into the young woman who had perfect social graces and no trace of her noted temper. Celia's adult incarnate took major plot developments as only a cardboard cutout could, and it was very disappointing. Marco also had minimal development, especially when his relationship with Alexander called for so much (Marco was his favorite student? Really? Never noticed). No major characters were fleshed out, and important development between them was left to the reader's imagination.

To be honest, this novel could be shortened by about 50-100 pages easily and the plot would be the exact same. Other issues that the novel suffers from are stereotypes, lengthy unnecessary dialogue, and potential confusion in the timeline. The novel has received MANY glowing, positive reviews so for most, it does live up to its hype. But if you prefer lengthy character development over lengthy setting and clothing descriptions, I'd suggest picking a different novel.
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16 of 17 people found the following review helpful
Format: Paperback
Erin Morgenstern paints a picture in black that is so vivid and strong that I can’t but pray to see it developed on the big screen while at the same time worrying that it will never ever manage to live up to the beauty that is The Night Circus. Amazingly complex…this novel spans multiple POVs and multiple time frames to tell the story of Marco, Celia, and the Circus (which is so much more than a setting…it literally takes on a life of it’s own.) I loved the myriad of circus folk and hangers-on that we came to know and appreciate as well as this timeless love story.

The Night Circus itself though wins the show here. Take a step through those gates, lose track of time and of yourself…smell the sweets and popcorn, hear the barkers call and let the magic wash over you….

NOTE: Review copy rcvd in exchange for an honest review
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83 of 102 people found the following review helpful
on May 31, 2011
Format: HardcoverVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
Utterly Amazing...those are the first words that come to mind after completing this visually and emotionally stunning novel. Having never been a fan of magical or mystical books I was skeptical upon starting. It didn't take long for me to be completely sucked in to the black and white glittering world of THE NIGHT CIRCUS. While it can be a little dark in places, the overall effect of this book is breathtaking. I could visualize the circus, in all its splendor with its cast of intoxicating characters. I, of course, loved Celia, one of the "stars" of the book. But I was just as intrigued by Tsukiko, the Japanese contortionist who could situate her entire body into a small glass box. And then there is the Ice Garden, and the Carousel, and The Burgess Sisters, and Marco,and the clockmaker, and the twins, and on and on....My head was spinning and my imagination running rampant as I flew through this book as fast my my fingers could turn the pages.

One of the primary reasons that I enjoyed this book so much was the author's ability to make an unusual cast of characters seem so real and likeable. Even with their idiosyncrasies I was able to relate with most of them on some level. I'm going to go out on a limb here and compare this book to HARRY POTTER and then say I enjoyed it 10 times more. If THE NIGHT CIRCUS becomes a movie, done right, it has the potential of being THE WIZARD OF OZ for our generation. It's that good. The book is written simply enough that most readers will be able to follow it. The only negative thing I can say about this book is that I didn't really like how it jumped around in time. I found myself having to go back and look at the titles/dates of some of the chapters to determine what exactly was happening. Other than that I can wholeheartedly endorse this book as one of the strongest and most memorable novels I have read in recent years.
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527 of 667 people found the following review helpful
on October 3, 2011
Format: HardcoverVerified Purchase
I feel like Erin Morgenstern kind of missed her calling. She'd make a fabulous art director. The circus she has imagined is going to look stunning on film. Let's just hope some gifted director will figure out how to bring life to her cardboard-like characters and tensionless plot.

Granted, some readers are going to love her descriptions of the fantastical scenarios of said nocturnal circus. And if Morgenstern had either a good story or a talent for writing, she'd be solidly in 3- or 4-star territory with me. But she has neither of those things.

First off: There is precious little in the way of story here, whether character-driven, plot-driven, or idea-driven. There is just nothing to these characters, likeable or unlikable. And the (alleged) plot! Those marketing blurbs that reference "a fierce competition," "a game in which only one can be left standing," and "the stage for a remarkable battle of imagination and will"--those are UNCONSCIONABLE LIES! Here's my proof: On a page that Kindle tells me is 54% of the way through the book, the central protagonists essentially agree that they have no conflict with one another: "Knowing that [Celia] thinks of the circus as an exhibition comes as a pleasant surprise, as [Marco] had stopped considering it antagonistic years ago." I find this pretty insulting to the reader. You tell me there's really no conflict between two people who are supposed to be locked in a magical battle? And there hasn't been conflict for years? And the revelation itself is no more than a pleasant surprise?

Oh, and that part about "only one can be left standing"? See, apparently the "duel" ends when one of the "combatants" dies. Which sounds exciting, except that they never actually battle. I might just as well claim that I, Amy Geneva, am locked in a magical duel with...I don't know, David Bowie. A duel that will end when one of us dies. And that claim will be every bit as true, AND just as meaningless, as the supposed battle described (endlessly, and tediously) in this book.

Onward to my other major complaint, which is the astonishingly clunky writing. Gah! Yes, I said Gah! OK, so this is a first novel, and she's a young writer...still, I KNOW Doubleday had the budget for an editor, even after Morgenstern got her massive advance...and, in all seriousness, this is some brutally bad writing. No originality of usage, no fresh metaphors. If you're going to pack your book with flowery description, it should contribute to the plot, characterization, or themes. And the language itself ought to be beautiful. See, it's not enough to describe things as being sumptuous, intricate, and lovely if your prose is just...gross.

Let's do a quick comparison of Junk Writing that Thinks It's Lovely and Lyrical (Sample A), vs. Junk Writing that Knows It's Junk and Is Therefore Funny (Sample B):

Sample A
"She turns her head, Bailey catches her eye, and she smiles at him. Not in the way that one smiles at a random member of the audience when one is in the middle of performing circus tricks with unusually talented kittens but in the way that one smiles when one recognizes someone they have not seen in some time."
--Erin Morgenstern, The Night Circus

Sample B
"He spoke with the wisdom that can only come from experience, like a guy who went blind because he looked at a solar eclipse without one of those boxes with a pinhole in it and now goes around the country speaking at high schools about the dangers of looking at a solar eclipse without one of those boxes with a pinhole in it."
--Attributed to Joseph Romm, winner of some kind of bad simile contest. (Or so sayeth the Interweb.)

Do you see what I'm getting at here?

I can overlook the occasional clumsy construction. It happens. But I found Morgenstern's prose almost nauseating, because I was constantly rewriting her sentences in my head while reading. How about some more examples, so you can share my pain? Let's examine the phrase "round spheres that resemble birdcages." Cue gag reflex! Sorry, I wasn't aware that square spheres existed. Why not write "round cages"? Even "spherical cages" would be acceptable.

Then there's "Normal chairs with legs and backs act as trapezes." my world, normal chairs HAVE legs and backs. That said, exactly how are these normal chairs ACTING AS TRAPEZES? Has Morgenstern ever seen a trapeze? In my experience, they bear little resemblance to chairs. Now, this is a work of fantasy, and I am eager to believe in chairs that can act as trapezes. All I'm asking for is a little more detail. Unfortunately, those nine words are a paragraph unto themselves. There is absolutely no explanation of this hard-to-visualize occurrence. Disappointing.

Here's another: "There is a considerable crowd outside when Herr Thiessen finally reaches the gates, and despite the crowd, he would have spotted his clock instantly, even without being informed of its placement." I hope you understand why I feel this merits a "Gah!" because, frankly, I find it exhausting to untangle the mess of verb tense shift, spatial discontinuity, passive voice, and sheer wordiness plaguing this sentence.

Here's a fun activity if you happen to be using an e-reader to slog through this book. Do a search on the phrase "for some time." The list is both long and hilarious. With irritating vagueness, Morgenstern repeatedly forces her characters to stand in one place "for some time," stare at one another "for some time," or just sit silently "for some time." Perhaps my standards are too high, but I like a book to contain some ideas or some action, if not both. In The Night Circus, a shocking number of sentences are being wasted on uninteresting non-action that lasts for indefinable periods of time. It's excruciatingly boring.

So yeah. In the absence of compelling characters or a gripping plot, I found I was reading on just to see what egregious literary howler Morgenstern would commit next.

I leave you with this revolting pile of words: "After dinner, the conversation continues over coffee and brandy in the parlor, until an hour most of the guests deem extremely late but Tsukiko points out that it is comparatively early for the circus girls." (And yes, I typed that exactly as printed.) Kindly consider that this sentence got past an editor (who, I hope, read the manuscript more than once), AND a proofreader, AND a copy editor.

And therein lies the true fantasy of this novel.
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