My rating: 5 of 5 stars
First and foremost, this is a story of the circus.
I discovered The Night Circus through its advertising minigame by the same name, and that probably painted my relationship with the book in a peculiar way. The game follows one’s view of the circus as a reveur, a recurrent visitor, visiting the various tents and shows, glimpsing several mysteries that are left unexplained – until you read the book. The writing is very strong, borrowing both from the book itself and the great skill of the guys at Fail Better Games, so I was left dubious when deciding whether to buy the book or not: is it going to be as good? Is it going to degenerate in a sappy romance with magical duels? Is the circus going to lose its magic just because we know its magic?
The book does not go that way.
The romance is there, but it does not overwhelm the setting. There is no duel of flashing lights, no rivalry and one-upmanship, no glorious deconstruction of the magic trick. There is the circus, in all its luscious description, and its effect on all the people it touches, from its original creators, its players, its visitors, and even the mysterious masters who first set the challenge in motion.
To make this even more clear, Morgenstern constantly switches the point of view of the narration, jumping around in time and space so that one minute you’re in 1877, then 1902, then 1901 and so on, so forth. It is not easy to keep track of the timeline at times, but it is rewarding.
There are faults in the book. It is definitely a book of ambience and mood rather than plot and urgency. The character of Isobel needed a bit more fleshing for the role it played, and the ending will feel a bit too easy and a cop out to some, but they’re faults I’m willing to overlook for the wonderful experience.