When you break down fiction into its basest elements, its beauty lies in a good story, likable characters, and a compelling narrative. Fiction is also escapism, and that escapism is nowhere more prevalent than it is in fantasy fiction. There, the world is as interesting as compelling as the people who inhabit it, and in turn, the setting becomes as much a character as those moving through it. And with The Night Circus, this is exactly the case.
It’s no surprise that the circus acts as a character, since it serves as an extension of Celia and Marco, two magicians caught up in a game pitted between their mentors. In this game, they create attractions that are bigger and better than anything else the circus has yet offered as a means to prove how powerful and focused they are. It’s a battle that predates them by decades, if not longer, and one that has consequences of which they’re unaware. But the enchanted circus consumes them, much as it consumes anyone who visits it.
Readers might find themselves comparing the story to Something Wicked This Way Comes, which I think would be a disservice to both. Both stories center around a mystical circus, but the themes of the two novels are significantly different. Where Bradbury’s story focuses on the innocence of youth battling with the responsibilities of growing up, Morgenstern’s story is more about questionable loyalties at war with each other. It’s more understated and adult, both in theme and content.
The Night Circus is one of these fantasy novels, by turns light and airy, by others dark and brooding. Though it’s the story of the two magicians, the heart of the story lies with the eponymous circus, and like that circus, the story will wind you through pathways and into mysterious tents, all the while tantalizing you with hidden wonders and the promise of more. It’s a wonderful story, lyrically told, full of magic and amazement and inventive ideas that keep the reader engaged. Like any good fiction, it’s a story well worth reading and well worth sharing.