I wrote a blurb on its opening chapters, which you can read and reference in order to get a hint of the setup and characters, and a good portion of my opinion shifted as I turned the final page of this dark fantasy journey.
The book is crisscrossed with pages of vibrant prose that build a rich world for the characters – and the readers – to inhabit. If you are someone who feeds on every stitch of the characters’ outfits, the clutter and trinkets adorning studies and mansions, and colors and scents that almost require this book to be scratch-n-sniff, then you will greedily devour the book’s 400 pages.
Morgenstern – who moonlights as a visual artist – laces every paragraph with flowery exposition and detail, proving that she knows her palettes and primary colors, yet it tends to slow down the pace of the story and, at times, swallows the characters and plot. Those of you who prefer a plot and character driven tale will be disappointed that all too often the exposition and visuals take precedent.
There are a few interesting characters – the magical twins Poppet and Widget tend to be favorites – but I found it difficult to identify or root for any of the other characters, including the leads Marco and Celia. Both are boring and generic, doing nothing out of the ordinary – aside from using magic, which is never explained – and follow along with the plot simply because it required them to.
Speaking of the magic – we are never offered an explanation as to who can use it, what are its limitations, why is it possible, or how it works. None of these questions are answered and, strangely enough, none of these questions are asked by any of the characters. Not even Marco, who is chosen to “learn” (I suppose) magic at a very young age, yet we never see him question how any of it works. We are left to accept that it just does.
But explanations are not the strong suit of The Night Circus. Much of the plot, magic, character backgrounds, and motivations are left in the dark for the length of the novel; and, just when you think that a character is about to explain a small slice of the unknown, the chapter ends or the character gets away with a statement such as: “Don’t worry about that”.
Sort of lame and very much letdown on my behalf.
I was not expecting the twists and turns to be blatantly explained – I think it’s good storytelling to not have to do that – but The Night Circus has so many different storylines and characters intertwining with one another that it’s difficult to pinpoint the rise, climax, and fall of the story. I suspect that if you were to cull all of the pieces that were not directly related to Marco and Celia, you would end up with a 100 page novel.
Again, it’s not as simple as Point A to Point B, but stripping back the fancy exposition and purple prose reveals a razor thin plot that is held together with thumbtacks and scotch tape. The characters are not strong enough to carry the plot and fall forgotten throughout the novel.
This isn’t a book that should be avoided – it contains the promising beginnings of an author who can do better – but I would definitely hesitate to suggest it to anyone. As I mentioned, anyone who is enamored with circuses and astonishing visuals will easily tear through this book, wishing it continued for another 400 pages. But those who are bored by constant exposition, a lack of dialogue, and a slow-moving plot, but are fans of dark fantasy, would be better served opening the pages of Bradbury.