REVIEW: The Night Circus (Erin Morgenstern)

I recently blogged about how Celia Bowen, the protagonist from The Night Circus (2011,) has joined my list of Favorite Female Characters. She’s a surprising addition to this list, because despite the novel’s high praise and awards, I did not enjoy the novel.

Two magicians pit their students against each other in a game of competing schools of magic. The Circus becomes the arena as the two students–Celia and Marco–struggle to understand the game they’re forced to play and the rules which will determine who wins and survives. But as they compete, the two fall in love and must determine how to stop the game, at all costs.


The romance is (usually) believable. This is the first romance story I’ve read in years that’s built slowly and (somewhat) believably. Celia travels with the Circus around the world while, Marco manipulates the Circus from a distance and spends most of his time in London. The characters fall in love over a decade, and one of the characters in the novel describes the Circus tents they create as “love letters” to each other. I haven’t read YA in years, and found it refreshing that despite being a YA novel, Celia and Marco do not remain teenagers for long. The breadth of the novel helped its believability.

The plot is intricate.  Morgenstern balances 2 concurrent timelines that ultimately collide. No matter my thoughts on her writing style (see below), I have to admit she did a lot of leg work to get her 2 storylines to line up and feel as if everything is always rushing toward an inevitable conclusion.


Overuse of Passive Voice. Perhaps my biggest pet peeve, Morgenstern over-uses passive voice to create the mysterious magical prose, fans rave about. Here’s an example below:

“The crowd grows thinner. Masks are returned to the baskets in the courtyard by the gates, jumbled piles of empty eyes and ribbons. Children are dragged away with promises that they may return the next evening.” (italics mine for emphasis)

We learn information REALLY late. We learn information as the characters learn it, which often left me confused about some of the basic principles of the world. It’s only in the very end that we get an answer about what magic is and how it works, for instance.


For me, I found the novel frustrating, both on a story level and a sentence level, but that does not make it awful. I read it with a few high school students as an assignment, and they’ve all really loved it. But would I recommend the book? No. Would I read it again? No. Personally, I’d say skip this one despite the hype, but let me know your thoughts.

Did you read it and love it? hate it? are you ambivalent? Let me know in the comments.

Comments are closed.