The plot is pretty slow, or rather, things happen but nothing grand. Unlike most fantasy fiction filled with battles and actions and so on, The Night Circus focuses on detailed descriptions (like what I tried to do but probably failed in Synopsis below), some are important clues for later events but some are not, simply for the joy of reading. The reading experience is like slowly opening a gift wrapped in many layers. Every layer is a surprise and a clue to unfold the big secret. (And you really get to know the secret in the end, trust me.)
The romance is there but not a central theme, despite the summary saying so. The relationship between Celia and Marco is pretty slow-burn, appeared only in the latter half of the book. So if you are reading this as a romance novel you might be disappointed. Nonetheless, their relationship is still sweet to read.
There are some things you probably want to know before reading. First, the story isn’t narrated in a single timeline. Every chapter is given a place and time, so you sometimes have to figure out the course of the event yourself. It could be confusing, granted, but I find it amusing, for it makes the story mysterious and real (imagine reading a historical document of some sort). Second, the narration is in both second-person (like what I did in Synopsis) and third-person, and always in present tense, which I know may bother some people. Third, there are fewer dialogues than in most fiction. So, if you don’t like lengthy descriptions you may have a hard time getting into it. If you love to read elegant, lush prose like me, though, you are on a treat.
This book is undoubtedly fantasy, but fantasy is not the main theme. The magic is there but you don’t get to learn the magic systems and how it works. Magic do exist though and you get to appreciate their beauty.
If you read the summary on GR and thought the main characters are Celia and Marco, you might be disappointed. The story isn’t about the two of them. Instead, it’s about the circus and the people in it. (So that’s why Celia and Marco are very important. They’re an essential part of the circus, but still, the story isn’t all about them.) The two of them also don’t have much of a personality arc. There is a strong personality arc, but just not the two of them. Also, sometimes you don’t get to see much of what the characters are thinking. It’s purposely left vague for you to guess.
All in all, this isn’t the perfect book, but the reading experience is refreshing in a way that few other fictions could provide. If you want to read something different for a change, The Night Circus might leave you pleasantly surprised.
*My review ends here. However, since the reading experience is too special to be put in plain text and the summary above is somewhat misleading, I try to write a synopsis in a similar style to the book, so you might get a sense of how it feels like to read it. I’m not a talented writer like Erin Morgenstern, though, so bear with me if I totally fail and just ignored it. No spoilers below.
Synopsis for The Night Circus:
The stars twinkle. The bell chimes midnight. You find yourself surrounded by the fragrance of sweet caramel and strands of black and white.
You did not realize this is what you’ve been waiting for all your life, not until this moment. Le Cirque des Rêves, a circus that only performs at night, a dream that thousands pursuit worldwide, a mystery that doesn’t plan to be unfolded, is finally in front of your eyes.
You tentatively take a step, then another, then another, into the circular path, wandering through tents after tents, wonders after wonders. As you step in the first tent, a deep voice, mystify yet comforting, says: “Once upon a time…”
It is telling you the story of the Circus.
As you visit tents after tents, gazing at spectacles you couldn’t begin to fathom, you learn how the idea of the Circus is born by an ambitious artist, Chandresh Christophe Lefèvre. How the Circus becomes the venue of a magical competition between two young talented magicians, Celia Bowen and Marco Alisdair. How the Circus changes the life of a certain Bailey Alden Clarke. How destinies entwine and cross paths. How the Circus evolves with complicating sentiments: joy, devotion, hate, love.
And, of course, you learn the tragedies behind the shining surface, forgotten by most, but forever haunt the performers like burning scars.
Now you’re intrigued. The more you learn about the Circus, the more mysterious it becomes.
You ask how the story ends.
No reply comes.
A warm breeze strikes your cheek, gently urging you to look right. There stands a tent, signed “The Night Circus”, beckoning you in.
Shadows of various shapes and sizes dance inside. You see a big black raven darting through the air, and a white dove flying gracefully by its side. Cats, big and small, performing tricks too dazzling to keep up. A woman and a man, shifting in and out of focus, his hand on the small of her back, her head resting on his shoulder.
And then you notice all shadows seem to be swirling around a white table in the center, with a black leather book and a note on top.
“Turn the pages and read on…” the note reads.
When you exit the tent with an overwhelming heart, it’s already morning.