It’s easy to lose faith in the fantasy genre. There’s a lot of bad stuff out there-trite, boring, badly written sword and sorcery with a main character with a clearly Tolkien-influenced name and a plot that follows the same old twists and turns the whole time. Sometimes I wonder if all the bad writers were banished to the fantasy section; seriously, people, learn the basic rules of grammar.
But every once in awhile you stumble upon a gem, a novel so lovely to read that it’s hard to categorize it in the same genre as David Eddings and Mercedes Lackey. Patricia McKillip writes books like this; so does Guy Gavriel Kay. It’s a sort of blend of gorgeous prose with irresistible storytelling, words that flow in such a way that you can’t really stop from one chapter to the next and end up retreating from the world for a day or so until you have to come up for air. Erin Morgenstern’s “The Night Circus” is one of these books.
At times like a fairy tale, at others like a dream, “The Night Circus” begins with a contest-a contest the reader feels has been going on for quite some time. A deal is struck, two magicians part ways, and the real story begins.
As the title suggests, the story revolves around Le Cirque des RÃªves-a mystical, magical creation that turns up unannounced overnight. The circus is shut during the day, but as dusk falls, the gates creak open and waiting townspeople are ushered inside to enjoy a night they’ll never forget. The circus offers dazzling performances, gorgeous displays, delectable treats, and hundreds of other sights. You can explore it for hours without seeing all of it and without ever getting tired of it.
But behind the gorgeous facade of the circus lies a world more complicated than any of the circus-goers could ever imagine. Unbeknownst to each other, Celia, the circus’ illusionist, and Marco, the proprietor’s man, are bound together in a contest they do not know how to begin or end, which gets complicated when despite their distance, despite their past, despite everything, the two begin to fall in love.
Maybe I’m wrong about “The Night Circus.” It has plenty of tropes, too: magicians’ duels, star-crossed lovers, hidden magic. But if I’m wrong, I don’t care. Morgenstern has taken these elements and woven them into something entirely new, something beautiful and wonderful that I’m not sure I’ve ever seen before. It’s like a fairy tale for adults, with all the magic and mysticism and a slight twist on the happily ever after. It’s like stepping into a dream, immediately involving and impossible to escape-you don’t want to leave.
So maybe Morgenstern isn’t doing anything different. Perhaps she’s doing the same things as everybody else. But if she is, she’s at least doing them differently, and there’s nothing wrong with reinvention. So, whether “The Night Circus” is something new altogether, or just old themes boxed up in pretty packaging, keep an eye out for a copy if you’re looking to escape. Be warned, though; you might just start checking empty fields for the circus.