I do not usually have trouble writing reviews of books that I have loved, but this review is proving to be an exception. You see, it's rare that a book haunts me in a way that Erin Morgenstern's The Night Circus did and I want to make sure that my review is worthy of it; not only that, but I need to make sure that I get the tone just right, for like most books that I have a strong reaction to, this book is not for everybody.
Le Cirque des Reves (the Circus of Dreams) travels from city to city, from continent to continent, on no particular timetable, disappearing as quickly and as randomly as it appears. Operating from dusk to dawn and cloaked only in white, black, and silver, it offers the best entertainments of its kind in the world: acrobats, fortune tellers, animal acts, a magician--even the food concessions. For the extraordinary people who travel with it, year in and year out, it is more than their livelihood, it is their lifeblood. As the novel unfolds, the reader comes to realize that the circus is also the playing field where Prospero the Enchanter and another magician known mostly as "the man in the grey suit" observe, but do not interfere with, a game with deadly consequences that they set into motion long ago. Celia and Marco, their respective apprentices, bound irrevocably to their competition and each other, must use every reserve of power and imagination they possess to make sure the game does not play out according to the contract. Along the way we meet a cast of incredible characters: Widget and Poppet, twins born on the circus's opening night; Isobel, a reader of cards caught between her love of the circus and her love of Marco; Chandresh Lefevre, circus proprietor and host of exclusive midnight dinner parties; Bailey, an ordinary boy who just might be more than what he seems; Tsukiko, the contortionist, whose secretive past keeps her anchored to the circus with an interest that is both personal and forlorn; and many, many more.
There are some books that capture the imagination; this novel seems rather to set the reader's imagination free with all that's best of dark and bright. The Night Circus is precisely poised in that netherworld between reality and imagination, between wakefulness and sleep, casting the dreamer into the light of the dark black night. If you believe that The Shire is worth saving, if you believe somewhere in your heart that your Hogwarts letter will still find you, if you believe in tesseracts and kything, this is the book for you. More than anything else, this is a book that rewards those readers who know that true magic lies in the believing, not in the object of belief.
If you are one of those readers, I think you will find, like me, that once you pick up this book, every moment spent not reading it feels like a moment wasted. It is an intoxicating blend of reality and imagination.
NB: Ann Kingman, one of my Random House sales reps, sent me an ARC of this book, which will be published by Doubleday in September. It is one of the best books I have read this year. It also happens to be earning international acclaim already since the rights sold in over twenty countries AND there is already a movie deal in the works. I think this book is poised to make it big.