This book has sat on my bookshelf for years. I bought it when it first came out (about five years ago?). I was charmed by the beautiful cover and the blurb, but then a reviewer whose opinions I trust was quite scathing about the book, so I left it unread all these years, until I stumbled across it while cleaning out my shelves recently. I skimmed through the first couple of pages and thought I’d give this book a try.
About the book
It’s hard to describe what this book is about. It’s a story of two power-crazed magicians (enchanters? I don’t know what to call them) who enlist young children into a game of magical challenges, which escalate until only one of the contestants is left standing. This game seems to have gone on for centuries, almost.
The latest contestants are Marco and Celia who have been trained since childhood to compete in this game. Their stage is the night circus, which they control, and where they showcase their amazing skills.
However, what happens to the game when the contestants fall in love? Will they be able to escape from the shadow of their masters? How will the game end for them?
As you can see from the synopsis, this is a most unusual and creative book. It is fun, playful, and enchanting. Story-wise, it is also a bit puzzling. You see, I have read so many books it is a little hard for a book to surprise me, but I found myself constantly being surprised and puzzled by this one – in some good ways, and in not some good ways.
The good things about the book is the absolutely amazing scene setting. The descriptions of the circus, the people who lived there were amazing. She managed to convince me (a person who loathes circuses – been to too many really tawdry ones) that a circus could be magical and fun. Along with the magic and fantasy, she slowly introduces the darkness behind the scenes of the circus. I thought all these bits were fantastically done, and I kept thinking about the circus a lot even when I wasn’t actively reading the book.
The puzzling part (at least to me) was how she let down the love story in the book. So much love was devoted to the circus, but the love story of the main leads was just instalove blah. I honestly thought Marco’s first girlfriend Isobel was more interesting than Celia who as a character is just not well-developed enough to make me care for her.
I also thought that the magic although pretty well done was puzzling. I blame the book blurb for this. The blurb on my edition of the book gave me the impression that the two magicians are locked in a deadly contest, but really the magic they do is a little tame, a little childish – think a maze of clouds, or a lush garden made of ice. Nice but hardly deadly.
Anyway, most of this book meanders through in this way, both magicians doing enchanting spells within the circus, until the strings holding the circus together start to fray. Both Celia and Marco want to live a life together (which is impossible according to the rules of the game), and so they struggle to find a resolution to this impasse, eventually finding a most creative way to end the game.
The ending was note-perfect. I can’t say that I understood all of it, but Morgenstern had cleverly lined up all her plot pieces perfectly to craft a suitable ending for the book. All along as I read this rather meandering book, I had suspected that the ending was going to be a damp squib, but she surprised me yet again.
Overall, a book that I liked far more than I expected to. I get why some reviewers grumble about the plotting. There were huge chunks in the middle of the book that just screamed magic fluff to me, but now that I have finished this book, all that magic fluff seems essential to the book. Take it away, and you have very little else.
You can also purchase a copy of this book from Amazon.