“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 opening lines of The Night Circus
The title and opening chapter lead you to believe that this book is about a nocturnal circus, but the circus is only the setting of this well-written fantasy. The real story, like all good stories, goes on behind the scenes.
Prospero the Magician, a real magician only pretending to be a sleight-of-hand illusionist in Victorian-era New York, is less than enthused to meet his five-year-old daughter, Celia. But when it turns out that Celia has impressive powers of her own, Prospero’s attitude toward her changes from annoyed to sinisterly gleeful. Without Celia’s consent, he enters her into an intimate contest of skill between herself and an unknown opponent. Celia subsequently spends her entire childhood and adolescence training for the contest, even though her father withholds all details concerning the event itself. Whenever she asks about the rules, the venue, or the identity of her opponent, Prospero simply tells her that none of it is important, because she will win the contest if she doesn’t hold anything back.
To explain any more of the plot might ruin it, so I’ll stop here. Suffice it to say that this is an imaginative, well-told story. The magic seems to seep into the writing itself with imagery so well-described that you will look up from the pages and be surprised that you’re actually not at the circus.