I got this book back in the summer, but only started it a few weeks ago. This book embodies the word, “magic”, perfectly, and fittingly enough.
Summary: The circus arrives without warning. No announcements precede it. It is simply there, when yesterday it was not. Within the black-and-white striped canvas tents is an utterly unique experience full of breathtaking amazements. It is called Le Cirque des Rêves, and it is only open at night… The circus arrives without warning. No announcements precede it. It is simply there, when yesterday it was not. Within the black-and-white striped canvas tents is an utterly unique experience full of breathtaking amazements. It is called Le Cirque des Rêves, and it is only open at night. But behind the scenes, a fierce competition is underway – a duel between two young magicians, Celia and Marco, who have been trained since childhood expressly for this purpose by their mercurial instructors. Unbeknownst to them, this is a game in which only one can be left standing, and the circus is but the stage for a remarkable battle of imagination and will. Despite themselves, however, Celia and Marco tumble headfirst into love – a deep, magical love that makes the lights flicker and the room grow warm whenever they so much as brush hands. True love or not, the game must play out, and the fates of everyone involved, from the cast of extraordinary circus performers to the patrons, hang in the balance, suspended as precariously as the daring acrobats overhead.
Story: 4/5: The summary hides a very important detail: there are actually two stories, not just Celia and Marco’s. It focuses on a boy named Bailey who discovers Le Cirque Des Rêves and loves it, as well as his friendship with two performers, the twins Poppet and Widget.
I enjoyed Celia and Marco’s story enough, but I feel as though the competition element wasn’t really a competition. It felt more like an experiment as the story went on. That’s interesting enough, but I feel like the two elements could’ve been combined better; I would’ve loved to see some actual competition between the two of them. Plus, I feel as though the romance was kind of forced and sudden. Although I do like their story as a whole, there are just aspects that I feel lacked a certain spark that the other story had.
The other story is about Bailey, a farm boy who firsts visits the circus on a dare and meets Poppet, a performer. When he visits the circus again years later, he explores each area, sometimes alone, and sometimes with the twins. While his chapters felt out of place and unneeded at first, I found myself liking them more and more; there was just someing different about his observations of the circus. And I loved his interactions with Poppet and Widget.
These two stories seem separate and have confusing time skips, but slowly, they start to intersect and meet in the most interesting ways.
Characters: 3.5/5: This is also tricky. These characters are pretty colorful and creative, but some could’ve done with more depth.
Celia and Marco were all right characters. They just felt sort of bland to me. I didn’t outright dislike them, they just lacked something that made me unable to be as interested in their story or their relationship. I didn’t care for their romance; it lacked a spark to it, and seemed way too sudden. It wasn’t very well paced, and felt almost insta-love, except for the fact that they had been acquaintances for years.
Bailey, Poppet, and Widget I liked a lot. Bailey begins by feeling pressured by his family: his father wants him to be a farmer, his grandmother wants him to go to college, and his mother doesn’t take a side. He feels lost for a while, unable to decide what he wants in life, which is pretty relatable. Poppet is the twin who can see the future in strange ways, and is the one who first befriends Bailey. Widget is a storyteller who can see people’s pasts. Their interactions are sweet and a lot of fun.
There are other characters, like Tsukiko, a contortionist who is very secretive, Isobel, a fortune teller who loves Marco and has some of the best development through the book, Chandresh, the inventor of the circus in a way, Herr Thiessen, who works on the clocks in the circus, and Hector Bowen, Celia’s father, and Mr. A H-, who never reveals his name and is Marco’s teacher. To be honest, there are a ton of characters, and can be hard to keep track of. But they’re fun and seriously creative. The downside is that some characters come off as shallow or not so fleshed out, but the majority are a pretty good cast.
Writing: 5/5: Oh my gosh the writing. It was the best part of the book; Morgenstern is an amazing storyteller. She has a magical way with words that can just draw you in and make it difficult to come out of. Her scenery and descriptions of the tents of the circus in particular are so, so beautiful. It feels hypnotic and enchanting, and makes you wish the circus was a real place. Everything was innovative and completely out of the box. And don’t get me started on the food…gosh, I wish it was real too, I would love to eat it.
Details: 4.5/5: Again, as I said with the writing, everything in this book was described perfectly. It felt almost immersive, the way she wrote about the circus. You could almost envision you were there; if you’re someone who can dream of your favorite fictional pieces, you could probably dream of this perfectly, the detail is that strong. My main complaint is that everyone calls the thing between Celia and Marco a competition, when I felt it really wasn’t that; it felt more like an experiment to me.
World Building: 4.5/5: This goes along with writing and details, so I’ll keep this brief. Everything here felt amazing and easy to envision. Each tent sounded fascinating and mysterious, like something I’d love to visit.
- Beautiful writing: This is some of the best writing I have ever read. It pulls you in and makes it strangely addicting. It’s utterly enchanting, and makes me wonder if the author is a magician involved in the experiment; her writing was certainly magical enough.
- Dream circus: This is a dream circus. Everything in here is so amazing and wonderful sounding, I think anyone who reads the book would at least want to see it. Morgenstern was able to write down one of the most amazing places I’ve read.
- Two stories: While the two stories may be jarring at first (due to the summary) I think that’s why I enjoyed it so much. If it weren’t for Bailey’s story, I probably wouldn’t have loved this as much as I did. And it was amazing how the two stories connected in the end.
- Can be slow: This book takes place over decades. So expect a slower pace and strange time skips. Trust me, as you go along, it starts to make sense and you grow used to it, and maybe even like it.
- Rushed ending: This is a very slow paced book. So why did the ending feel so rushed? It didn’t feel right to me; it just felt quickly written, when it needed more time to be fleshed out.
- Bland romance: The romance between Celia and Marco lacked a spark. Maybe it was because they didn’t know each other that well, or they just felt a little less colorful than the rest of the characters? I just didn’t really buy their sudden feelings for each other.
Grade: 4/5. This book is amazingly written and has a fantastic, dream like world. My main complaint is that some characters felt kind of shallow or bland, and that some of the story wasn’t quite what I was hoping for. I still truly enjoyed this book however; it had a truly enchanting quality that ultimately made the strong points outweigh the weak parts.