The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern is a delicious read. The writing is rich and descriptive and the storyline is compelling. This is definitely a book for skilled readers that enjoy detailed plots and settings. The main character, Celia, is followed from childhood to her adult life-although the story jumps around in time and chapters are told from different perspectives. It is not until the very end of the book that the reader understands why some chapters are being directed at us, the reader, while others are more omnipotent in nature.
Celia’s life is not easy. She is introduced shortly after her mother commits suicide. Her father sees her as a project, not as someone to love, which creates a very complicated basis for building relationships in the story. Her father is a famous illusionist with a slightly sinister undercurrent. He clearly wants to use Celia for her supernatural gifts and abilities to prove something to a mysterious opponent. Celia is bound at age six into a competition with another “student” that she will not meet until later in life. Her father’s training methods are cruel, and as we meet her competitor, we see that his training is equally rigorous, yet, unfeeling and sterile.
The title circus, though is wondrous and richly drawn by Morgenstern. Due to the nature of the plot, the circus expands and develops with fantastic new attractions and incredible sights and experiences. The circus “extras” become equally fascinating and the story about how they build, grow and develop the circus becomes an enjoyable secondary plot. The circus is grounded in reality, created by people that have mechanical and technical gifts, but flourishes with the addition of magic by Celia and her competitor. The circus is clearly the playing field for the competition, even though the reader is not initially sure if it is a competition between good and evil, good vs. good or evil vs. slightly less evil.
I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book. It was a delightful story to get lost in for several hours. The Night Circus is clearly written for avid readers with a more sophisticated grasp on literature. The story would appeal to advanced high school aged readers. The storyline does involve some cruel father/daughter moments and unpleasant mentor/mentee relationships. There is romantic tension within the novel and one instance of implied sex between consenting adults.