"I do not mourn the loss of my sister because she will always be with me, in my heart," she says. "I am, however, rather annoyed that my Tara has left me to suffer you lot alone. I do not see as well without her. I do not hear as well without her. I do not feel as well without her. I would be better off without a hand or a leg than without my sister. Then at least she would be here to mock my appearance and claim to be the pretty one for a change. We have all lost our Tara, but I have lost a part of myself as well."
The Night Circus is not your usual circus. For one, it arrives without any kind of announcement or hype. One day it is not there, and the next day it suddenly is. On the other hand, it is open only at sunset, and closes at dawn. And thirdly, the tents are all black-and-white striped, and not the usual colorful ruckus you would expect to see in a circus. Against this mysterious setting are two young magicians, Celia and Marco, battling out a challenge made by their guardians, years ago. A battle that brings them closer, sends their imaginations wild with possibilities and may or may not end the way they expect it to.
There. That synopsis probably reveals nothing much about a book that everyone knows enough about and that went viral in the book world sometime last year. I wanted to review this book soon after I read it last year, but initially I blamed it on lack of time, then on a possibly vague recollection, and finally on the fact that it was shortlisted in the Indie Lit Awards. When I posted my brief thoughts on the books in the Fiction category of the awards, I mentioned that this was one of the books I enjoyed a lot, though I said Silver Sparrow was the best of the lot. However, if the Indie Lit Awards had a "Book I am Most Likely to Reread" award, The Night Circus would have been my incontestable choice. In fact, I had half a mind to start rereading it right now when I was writing this review, before I remembered that my copy was with my brother.
I'm not sure what it was about The Night Circus that I loved. I started reading it on the train at 7 am in the morning, when I was going to New York, planning to read a couple of pages and then nap a bit. But instead, I bought a cup of coffee and spent the next couple of days reading the book at all possible opportunities. I usually hate reading books about the circus, but this was more a book of magic than a book of circus tricks.
Celia, a magician by birth, and Marco, a magician by learning were bound by magic to battle out their skills until a clear winner emerged. Unfortunately, the two end up falling for each other, and as they find out, the challenge cannot be broken, nor was a future between them really possible. While part of the story followed their endeavors, another part followed a boy named Bailey in a different time period. Bailey wanted nothing more than to be a part of the circus. He befriends twins Poppet and Widget during his exploration of the circus, and while the friends have fun for as long as the circus is in town, there is something strange brewing - something that will need Bailey's intervention.
The Night Circus slips to and fro between the two time periods. It is necessary to be aware of the dates as you read - I know it has bothered some, but for some reason it didn't bother me in any way. I loved the characters that made up this book - there were so many of them with their own independent minds and thoughts, so much so that I did feel disappointed that some of them didn't have bigger roles. There were a few like the contortionist, Tsukiko, and the tarot reader, Isobel, who intrigued me enough to make me want for their own stories. Unfortunately, this is where the book failed - the characters become a pawn to the plot. In trying to the move the story to the conclusion, the characters that don't matter to the story anymore get sidelined.
When I finished reading this book, one of my first reactions amidst all the thrill and excitement and wonder, was disappointment that there was no explanation of the "theory of magic". For me, one of the pull of Harry Potter was the feeling that it was possible for a world like Hogwarts to exist, if someone developed a means to made a wand that can do spells. To me, that was the only impediment to a world of magic - such was the amount of details J.K. Rowling put into world-building. The Night Circus didn't do that. It was understood that there was magic, but not how. Marco spent a lot of time learning magic, but it was never revealed what he was learning. This disappointed me at first, because I like to look at the theory of anything. But later, I realized that it was all part of the mystery of the book. Even the characters didn't fully understand magic, but their every action echoed magic. In keeping with the theme of the book, some of the actions were deliberately and understandably skated superficially, as if mysterious.
My favorite aspect of the book had to do with the tents themselves. Each tent had something magical about it - there was a tent where the genuine illusionist made you see things, another tent where you got your future told (remarkably accurately), yet another one which was a maze, and another one which was made entirely of ice, and so on. Moreover, keeping with the mysterious setting of the book, even several plot elements of the book take on that air of suspense. This is one of those books you have to read twice if you want to solve all the mysteries within. You know, like one of those rereads, where you go "aha, so that's why she did so-and-so". I haven't read it twice, so I still have a few questions that I don't know the answers to yet. I just know that I will read it twice, soon as I see some breathing space in my review list and I get my hands on a copy.
That's been a long review, and I haven't even talked about the groupies, who wear a red scarf and keep track of where the circus is, each time!
I received this book for free for review from the publisher.