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1,256 of 1,330 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars the hype is justified
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...
Published on June 28, 2011 by dizzyweasel

735 of 823 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Torn
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...
Published on September 4, 2011 by Lindsay M.

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37 of 44 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Novel promising romance, illusions, and an epic tale falls flat... descriptions are nice, though., October 2, 2011
This review is from: The Night Circus (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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76 of 94 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Overly descriptive, June 10, 2011
This review is from: The Night Circus (Hardcover)
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"The Night Circus" will be a 5-star book for a certain reader. This reader likes a lot of descriptions, doesn't mind a very slow story and has a soft spot for circuses. I am not that reader. I prefer imagery to complement a plot rather than substitute it.

The plot summary of "The Night Circus" promises many enticing things, but delivers, in my opinion, only on one - lush imagery of a mysterious circus that is a collaborative creation of two rivaling magicians. The book is good 80% description of various circus tents, performances, dinners and pretty, visual acts of magic. I enjoyed it for the first 40 pages or so, but then it got tiring and felt indulgent on the author's part.

The remaining 20% are dedicated to: a battle between the two magicians that consists of... making up pretty things to impress each other (yes, you read that right, no actual combating of any sorts in this "fierce competition") and a lukewarm romance that comes out of the magicians' fascination with each other's creations from a distance, rather than interacting and spending time together.

My resulting disappointment with the novel has also a lot to do with the writing style - Morgenstern chose to write in present tense, 3rd person. It works well for describing imagery, but makes the narrative very distant, detached. We never get to truly know the characters, never feel any excitement.

To be honest, I am not sure if "The Night Circus" can even make a decent movie (the rights were bought by Summit). There is not much drama here or action, the story is anti-climactic, the love is dull and the magic is only vaguely defined and seems to have no rules and limitations.

I am thoroughly puzzled by the book's comparisons to Harry Potter.
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94 of 117 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Style Over Substance..., August 11, 2011
This review is from: The Night Circus (Hardcover)
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I was really excited to read this book, but it just didn't do it for me. I will not rehash the plot setting, as many have already done so, I will simply state what I liked/disliked about this book.

While the storyline is original, it is also very convoluted and nonsensical. I will say that I liked the second half of the book more than the first half, because there was more interesting character interactions in the second half, and the romance finally took off the ground, so to speak. Our two main characters Marco and Celia don't really interact with each other, until the second half of the book. But I did like the dreams that Marco would show Celia (like a boat made of books and floating on ink, etc).

The book was also slow and it drags at some parts. And because there are many characters, none of them really gets a chance to be really fleshed out, they're all vague just like the premise of the story. So in the end the reader doesn't really feel attached to any of them, and this makes the characters forgettable, and the story a less engaging read.

Edited to add "spoiler alert":
Also by the end of the book, the reader still doesn't understand why the challenges are held, and what purpose does the moving circus serve? and why is Bailey the only one who can keep the circus going (after Celia passes that burden on to him) and for what purpose? Basically this book had a convoluted premise of a moving circus and a magic challenge that goes on for years and years (where the competitors themselves don't understand the purpose of the game or it's rules), and by the end of the book, the reader is no closer to understanding anything about this nonsensical storyline.

So in the end, while this had some beautiful magic scenes, I felt that overall this book was style over substance.
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29 of 34 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars When is this book going to end?, May 15, 2013
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This review is from: The Night Circus (Kindle Edition)
I found it difficult to relate to any of the characters and didn't really care who won the game with no beginning, no rules and no end. The plot was so flimsy as to be nearly non existent. The author showed lots of imagination in creating the various tents in the circus but I couldn't figure out what relevance they had to either the book or life.
Why was this book it written? It will certainly have no impact on my life.
I should reveal that I was the only one of eight people in my book club who did not like it. They were fascinated by the imagination and creativity revealed by the circus and the weird plot line.
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42 of 51 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Should have been a novella, September 23, 2011
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This review is from: The Night Circus (Hardcover)
The great irony of this book is that I was skipping the supposed best parts - the fabulous visuals - because they're tangled up with flat characters, a plot that is random and illogical, and a complete lack of emotion. This book should have been a novella.

Here is what I got:

1. Fabulous tricks and lush settings that are mere ornaments to a haphazard plot. I missed the "ship of books" until I saw it excerpted in a review - I was skimming that whole scene. Many of the tricks are silly, like fixing broken teacups or changing the color of a dress. Half of them could be cut.

2. A plot that is carried not by actual drama but by dull or puzzling conversations and random events. All you really see happening is 1) people doing tricks, and 2) people talking in smoky cafes or at lavish dinner parties or at the circus as they wander around munching popcorn and chocolate mice. The savior, Bailey, almost literally falls into his life's task instead of being driven into it by some personal, inner fire. Everything is nearly lost at one point because he misses a train. This is known in movie parlance as "a sagging second act" and "too many coincidences."

3. Too many expository conversations. "How did she know?" "She has the power of seeing the past." "I control X, and he controls Y." (This is known in movie parlance as "telling, not showing.")

4. Many plot developments are conveniently foretold or hinted at by psychics or tarot card readers for no apparent reason. You could cut ALL these teases and subplots without losing anything.

5. Half the conversations are bizarre and coy, full of "That I cannot say" or "You will know when it is time" type remarks with no explanation EVER as to why the character could not say or why the right "time" was 1901, not 1899. Other conversations are irritating small talk. "Would you like some wine?" "Yes please." "Please come in." "Thank you." "This room is fascinating." "Yes, it is my favorite. What is your favorite?" "My favorite is the garden." SKIMMM.

6. The central plot device is a grand competition with vaguely mortal stakes - but I had little interest in its outcome. The two master manipulators behind the competition rarely appear in the story, and then only to utter brief, blunt, mysterious directives. The author provides no idea until near the end of the book WHY they're staging this competition, and when she does, it is ridiculously trivial!

7. I kept getting deja-vu from Twilight (all these super-powered, slow-aging eccentrics in their own little world).

8. Those who haven't read Gabriel Garcia-Marquez will probably think the ending is soooooooooo ingenious and original. Sorry, no.

The film, incidentally, will be fabulous, because it will fix a lot of this stuff. The plotting will be tight, the major events will be transferred from dull exposition to action, and the actors will be lively and passionate instead of detached and semi-human. Oh, to be sure, Tsukiko will be the stereotypical Inscrutable Asian and a few more pointless enigmas will be preserved, but when we first see the grown-up Marco it will be in slo-mo with cool background music.

The film will also be fabulous because of the book's strengths. The production designer and art director will get the gig of a lifetime, and the FX will be magnificent.
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43 of 52 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars The Night Circus, August 21, 2011
This review is from: The Night Circus (Hardcover)
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This is one of the most anticipated books of the year- its author received a pretty massive advance from Doubleday and the rights to the movie adaptation have already been purchased by the makers of Twilight (EEK). I generally am wary of hype and am nearly always wary of novels about the circus. But the cover on this one was too great to resist!

The Night Circus is about two magicians, Celia and Marco, who are in magical competition with each other a la The Prestige. But they are not entirely in control of the game, and each move they make impacts many, many people. What starts as a competition soon becomes almost a series of magical love letters before things take a dangerous turn when lives start becoming disrupted.

I can see why the movie rights to this book were snatched up so quickly- it is a very visual book and I can see people biting at the chomp to see the actual night circus, full of wonders and marvels, brought to life (probably in IMAX 3-D). But while the descriptions of the circus were beautiful, and the secondary characters fascinating, I just didn't get much emotion at all from the two main characters, Celia and Marco. They are supposed to be madly in love with each other, so much so that the earth seems to tremble every time they touch. But through the whole story, I didn't feel as though I really KNEW them. For example, Celia is a quiet and sad child, but somehow grows up to be witty and confident, making suggestive jokes at dinner parties and delighting everyone. Marco is a lonely child who becomes a charming young adult, but when he becomes interested in Celia, he just seems a little TOO intense for it to be real for me. When did these evolutions happen? With such stunning visual descriptions of everything else in this book, I felt like the main characters should have been fleshed out more and then maybe their love story would have taken on more meaning for me.

But even though the main characters didn't do the heavy lifting this story required, in my opinion, the side characters (particularly the clockmaker and Chandresh) were excellent and so wonderfully portrayed. When combined with the beautiful and riveting descriptions of the night circus itself, they really carry the story and kept me interested and engaged the whole way through.
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30 of 36 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Emptiness..., September 19, 2011
Avid Reader (Phoenix, AZ USA) - See all my reviews
This review is from: The Night Circus (Hardcover)
I didn't have many hopes for this novel after seeing it compared to Twilight; that may be why I was pleasantly surprised to see that the writing consisted of words greater than two syllables, no glaring grammar errors, no overusage of the Word 2000 synonym tool, and no exhaustingly repetitive words (chagrin, anyone?).
However, though this book is written in a rich and captivating prose, it lacks solid ground. Harry Potter this certainly is not. The main characters are flat and I couldn't quite grasp their reasoning for falling so in love with each other. The love just didn't seem real. The plot was a bit empty, since the characters were mainly weak and 2-dimensional (save for the Twins and maybe Bailey). I enjoyed the imagery of the novel, which is why I didn't give it two stars, but if you are looking for the next Harry Potter, keep looking. There were also a lot of gaps in the story, questions that were never answered, and mysteries that weren't explained.
I won't continue to go on about the plot or characters, as I think most of the 1-3 star reviewers captured my own sentiments exactly. My second biggest complaint (following weak characters) is the tense the author chose to write in. The majority of the novel is written in third person present, that alone would be annoying and completely disconnects the reader from the characters...but in addition, she uses second person present inserts throughout the novel, which was just irritating!
I'd recommend this book to people who enjoyed The Historian and The Thirteenth Tale, and would probably read this author's next novel. But the pushing of this debut novel is another sneaky move by publishers who are just too anxious to find the next "big book."
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17 of 19 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars I want to run away and join this circus!, September 14, 2011
This review is from: The Night Circus (Hardcover)
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The Night Circus is a mysterious and magical place, full of wonder and acts that create awe in anyone who buys a ticket. Marco and Celia have been preparing for battle since their youth and when both are placed in the circus arena to battle, neither one is exactly certain what this competition is about, nor are they sure about the rules or how a winner is declared. So they both began to create special tents in order to impress each other, not the judges and in essence become love letters.

The story is told almost in a circular fashion, with flashbacks and forwards to help bring the reader to a conclusion. There are also a few minor characters that play important roles, yet you won't connect them together until almost the very end. Tsukiko, the tattooed contortionist, is one to keep your eye on since she knows exactly what the circus is and gives cryptic hints towards the true meaning of it's existence. The twins, Poppet and Widget, born when the circus first starts, are wise beyond their years and are inborn with a natural sense of order for the circus. Bailey becomes infatuated after visiting the circus and soon becomes a Reveur, a group who follow the circus, which are a fascinating group on their own.

The descriptions are lush and I found myself going back to reread this book just for the beautiful words. I am NOT a fan of overly descriptive novels, but this one was really worked for me. I couldn't quite figure out where the story was going until it was over and it didn't matter, I wanted to join the circus. Oh, forget the review. THIS IS THE BEST BOOK I HAVE READ THIS YEAR. least I can't remember one I liked better so far.
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30 of 36 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Get this author an editor!, April 26, 2013
This review is from: The Night Circus (Paperback)
"He watches the rest of the act with rapt attention, paying a fair deal more attention to the girl than the kittens, though the kittens are too impressive to ignore, and they steal his attention back periodically."

This book is just poorly written. It's sad that this is what passes for literature these days and that so many reviewers can read it and make comments like "well written." It reads like a second draft. The author needs an impartial editor and to spend a little more time learning how to write.
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Great Concept, Badly Executed. Never Connected With Me Emotionally., November 5, 2013
Ciara Ballintyne (Sydney, Australia) - See all my reviews
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Le Cirque de Reve – the Night Circus, an exotic circus open only during the hours of nightfall, a place of beauty, and wonder, and dreams made flesh. Here, the circus-goer can wander the mysterious paths between black and white striped tents, venturing into each tent as they please. Within each tent, a wonder – an illusionist, a fortune-teller, and sights even more wondrous and exotic, a garden of ice, a tree of wishes, a labyrinth of spectacular rooms, each even more fantastic and unbelievable than the last. And above all, the smell of caramel and popcorn. The Night Circus – the arena for a magical challenge.
Celia and Marco - unwilling antagonists in a battle of wits between their near-immortal mentors to prove one school of thought better than another. Bound to the challenge by magic, compelled to strive against one another, yet drawn to one another like moths to the flame.
Even now, the day after I finished the book, this is all I can tell you about the book. The story is easily summarised to a line or two, indicating a simplicity of storyline that is rare and not necessarily desirable. The scenes and individual events already blur and fade because they were part of a gradual build to the ending, rather than important events in their own right.
I enjoyed the destination of this book, but the journey often left me flat. Did I like Celia and Marco? In a vague, distant kind of way, yes. Do I feel I know the characters intimately, that I could tell you how they might respond in any given situation? No, not at all – in fact, if I were to describe the characters, I could only do so in vague terms. Was I invested in the outcome? Again, only in a slightly hopeful way.
The book is written in a peculiar fashion, utilising both second person point of view (use of ‘you’ instead of ‘I’, ‘he’, or ‘she’) and omniscient third POV (use of ‘he’ and ‘she’ in a remote fashion, where we feel the story is narrated to us and we are kept at arm’s length from the characters).
I detest the use of second person point of view in this book. It is used, I think, to create the sense the reader is in the circus. It irritated me, and distracted me from the story – not a good thing when I was already hardly invested in the story. Although I concede that the ending, the culmination of the use of second POV, was clever, it was not enough to compensate for its annoyances during the book. Third omniscient POV is what largely kept me from connecting with the characters. Never allowed inside the character’s heads, I never felt I got to know them, never got the chance to live and breathe their lives, their desires, and their fears.
The book uses present tense to compensate for the remote POV (he walks instead of he walked) but this, too is unconventional, as it often distracts the reader or creates a sense of discomfort – we are, by nature, accustomed to telling stories in past tense, even our own stories of each passing day, and use of other tenses can be an uncomfortable experience. I found it distracting and it didn’t sufficiently compensate for the POV.
The book also lacked conflict in my opinion. The main conflict turned out to be Celia’s and Marco’s desire to be rid of the challenge – the tension between what they must do by the rules of the game, and what they want to do. But the rules are so vague, each ‘move’ in the game so abstract (consisting mostly of each of them contributing to the circus by means of magic, adding a new tent or ‘act’ only made possible by magic), that the book is more than half over before the reader starts to gain a sense of this conflict. Other conflicts that might exist between the characters (for example, Celia and Marco’s blossoming romance, or the potential love triangle with Isobel) is negated by the use of omniscient third – we never wonder if Celia’s feelings for Marco are reciprocated because the narrator has already told us they are.
As a result, I found I had nothing to keep me reading except a vague curiosity in where the book was going. If I hadn’t been reading this for Club Fantasci, I may well have stopped in the first 10%. As it was, I was well past halfway before I felt I needed to read to the end. In my opinion, that is far too late.
My strongest reaction was early in the book to Prospero the Enchanter when he slices Celia’s fingers open in a cruel fashion to teach her to heal herself – but the impact of this, even, could have been made more immediate, and a stronger basis for the reader to identify with Celia if another POV had been used. Later, in the story, the emotional impact of this event in her life is played down.
The Black Moment (the moment of crisis, when the reader should catch their breath in fear and anticipation, waiting to see how terribly wrong everything has gone, and if all will be well) had me curious, but hardly emotionally invested to the point I should have been. I did foresee Celia’s plan for ending the game, and although it wasn’t what I wanted to happen, I found the most I could muster at the prospect was a mild annoyance.
While the story was different, novel, unique, and had a fabulous atmosphere and mood, I can only say I feel every opportunity for passion, for strong emotion, for the things readers hunger for, was missed. While I was not unhappy with the ending, this is not a story that will stay with me for years to come – or even perhaps past the week.
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