Review: The Night Circus, Erin Morgenstern

The Night Circus is about two dueling magicians dueling it out in a circus setting. The, uh, the circus happens at night. It’s a night circus. What happened is that there were these two cranky old dudes wanting to see who was smarter, and they each took a protegee, and when the protegees grew up they were to engage in a Massive Magic Battle until one of them won. The consequences for the loser were not stated directly but were strongly implied to be Dire. Celia works as an illusionist at the circus that Marco (kind of) runs. They are competitors but WILL THEY FALL IN LOVE?

(Is it spoiling anything to say that yes, they obviously will?)

In case I haven’t said it recently, I am a plot girl. I am a plot girl down to the ground. After that I am a character girl, and in absolute last place am I a settings girl. I can appreciate settings, but that’s not what I’m reading the book for, you know? A setting is for stuff to happen in, and characters are for stuff to happen to. The Night Circus is not a plot book, or if it is then I failed at reading it because I can’t even remember what happened at the end. It is not a character book, because none of the characters seemed to have actual personalities, just things they were able to contribute to the circus. It’s a setting book, y’all. That is not the way to my heart.

And look, I’m not having a go at Erin Morgenstern. Plots are hard! Complicated plots that stretch over many years are even harder. You have to be attentive to all the details and mindful of what everybody’s doing and what everybody wants, and that is challenging, and we are not all J. K. Rowling. Who I know is not the champion writer of all the world, what with the adverbs and the caps locks of rage, but she wrote damn good characters who participated in a damn good plot in a damn good setting.

(You know how sometimes you don’t even realize you are feeling defensive but all of a sudden out of nowhere you’re twenty words into a heated defense of someone or something that nobody is attacking, and then you’re like, Wait, I should stop this before it gets weird? So you stop? But secretly you want to keep on defending whatever it was you were defending, because you’ve sort of built up a head of steam about it? To the point where you want to get up on your soapbox and be like, The gift of plotting is undervalued in this world!, even though this has nothing to do with whatever you were talking about before you started feeling defensive? And you can’t quite let it go so you find a way to say it anyway? You know how that sometimes happens?)

I should say that Erin Morgenstern is aces at setting. Most times if a book appears to be a setting book, I will put it gently down and never return. The Night Circus kept me interested in spite of the slow-moving plot and the underdeveloped characters, because the descriptions of the circus are fantastic. They are evocative and cool and endlessly creative. You could imagine dozens of other stories happening in the circus setting (like, if Erin Morgenstern ever gets it into her head to write a story about the Reveurs, I would be all over that), and that was enough to keep my attention. Plus the circus reminded me of the very cool play I saw with Teresa in May. I later discovered that Erin Morgenstern drew inspiration from the people who originated Sleep No More, and that made me feel clever.

But really? I’m a plot girl. Plot’s where my heart’s at. I will read Beau Geste, in all its spectacular cracked-out lunacy, a hundred times before I die, and I will never look at The Night Circus again.