This review contains minor spoilers.
I heard much praise about this book before I decided to read it, and I think all the praise I heard built it up in my mind, which left me slightly disappointed. The book follows a (sort of) magical circus that travels the world and opens only at night. The circus, and the story behind it, is shrouded in mystery. We later learn that two of the main people involved in the circus, Celia and Marco, are bound to keep it running as part of a sick competition initiated by Celia’s father and Marco’s mentor.
First, the wonderful: Morgenstern uses amazing imagery and figurative language. The first few chapters had me hooked, and the imagery brought me into the world of the circus. The main conflict—Celia and Marco being placed in a competition by their mentors (and against their will) was compelling at the start. Writing teachers could find lots of effective passages to teach descriptive writing.
The problem was, the tension loosened considerably after the first few chapters, and although the descriptions were still nice to read, I felt that the book dragged in the middle. The book picked up in the last fifty pages, but by that time, I was irritated at the dragging middle, feeling that I was wasting my time. Don’t get me wrong—I did enjoy the ending and the way all the characters came together. In fact, I can see the rich imagery working well if the book were turned into a high-budget film. But the fact that it took me so long to get through the middle made me feel relieved to reach the end, which I think dampened the effect the otherwise magical ending would have had on me.
I have mentioned before in my reviews that I do not prefer books written in present tense. This story is told in present tense—but this is merely a personal preference. The tense seemed to bother me more when the book slowed, as I diverted my attention to tense rather than plot. If I were stuck on a desert island and had no other pressing business to attend to, I would enjoy the slower pace of The Night Circus. I feel, however, that I could have skipped large chunks of the middle and still understood the story without missing much (or anything). Cinematic quality–yes. Plot–not as much.
Criticism aside, Morgenstern is definitely a talented author, and I look forward to seeing what else she has up her sleeve.