Saturday, September 24, 2011

What We're Reading: The Night Circus

"The circus arrives without warning.

No announcements precede it, no paper notices on downtown posts and billboards, no mentions or advertisements in local newspapers. It is simply there, when yesterday it was not.

The towering tents are striped in white and black, no golds and crimsons to be seen. No color at all, save for the neighboring trees and the grass of the surrounding fields. Black-and-white stripes on grey sky; countless tents of varying shapes and sizes, with an elaborate wrought-iron fence encasing them in a colorless world. Even what little ground is visible from outside is black or white, painted or powdered, or treated with some other circus trick.

But it is not open for business. Not just yet.

Within hours everyone in town has heard about it. By afternoon the news has spread several towns over. Word of mouth is a more effective method of advertisement than typeset words and exclamation points on paper pamphlets or posters. It is impressive and unusual news, the sudden appearance of a mysterious circus. People marvel at the staggering height of the tallest tents. They stare at the clock that sits just inside the gates that no one can properly describe.

And the black sign painted in white letters that hangs upon the gates, the one that reads:

Opens at Nightfall
Closes at Dawn"

With this simple and evocative description, Erin Morgenstern begins The Night Circus.

The circus in question is Le Cirque des Rêves, the circus of dreams. As described, it appears almost magically, following no known schedule or path, and moves on just as suddenly and quietly. Le Cirque des Rêves is a wonder that captivates and entrances those lucky enough to visit. In fact, there is a small but devoted group of repeat visitors--les rêveurs--that have created a network to follow the circus, as best they can. But Le Cirque des Rêves is so much more than a circus. It is also the arena for a challenge.

Two ancient beings have selected apprentices, Celia and Marco, and trained them from childhood to compete in a challenge. With the circus as their canvas, Celia and Marco create and enhance the attractions of the circus, both honing and enhancing their skills, when something altogether unexpected happens: Celia and Marco fall in love. And it's a deep and intoxicating love that makes the air prickle with sparks when they are together. What the apprentices don’t know, however, is that there can be only one survivor at the end of the challenge.

With lush descriptions, engaging characters and an intriguing story, Erin Morgenstern’s first novel, once begun, is difficult to put down. It’s the unusual novel that is simultaneously a page-turner (because you desperately want to know what will happen next) and something to be savored, with rich descriptions giving life to both the characters and the locales. You can almost smell the popcorn as you read about the characters walking through Le Cirque des Rêves. The Night Circus crosses several genres, blending fantasy, romance and a certain amount of intrigue. Like Le Cirque des Rêves itself, The Night Circus will appeal to a broad (but discriminating) audience. So, meet with les rêveurs as night is falling, and await the opening of the gates. You can anticipate something truly magical inside these pages!

For more about the author, go to Erin's Emporium of discount dreams and well-worn wonders, at

And if the line of revelers creates a delay in entering Le Cirque des Rêves, you might consider enjoying one of these books in the meantime:

Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury
This is the story of Cooger & Dark's Pandemonium Shadow Show. Like Le Cirque des Rêves, this circus appears mysteriously in a small Midwestern town long after the normal season and brings with it the mysterious Mr. Dark, the Dust Witch and a strange carousel that appears to have extraordinary powers over life and death. As two young boys explore the carnival, they will expose the secrets of the Autumn People, but doing so may cost them their very souls. With descriptions that are almost lyrical and a powerful story of love and redemption, Something Wicked This Way Comes is quite possibly Bradbury’s greatest work.

The Prestige by Christopher Priest
A haunting novel of a professional competition taken to unnatural extremes. The Prestige tells the story of two young magicians, Alfred Borden and Rupert “Robbie” Angier, in turn-of-the-century London. As their careers develop, a competition between Borden and Angier grows. As each struggles to out-perform the other, the rivalry goes beyond reason. Stakes are raised, boundaries are pushed and the results jeopardize not only the sanity and lives of the two magicians, but those of their families for generations to come. The Prestige is an unforgettable novel of secrets, obsessions, betrayals, and consequences that could never have been foreseen.

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