I finally jumped on the circus wagon and joined the rest of the world in reading The Night Circus. Picking it up when I did, right on the heels of the announcement that J.K. Rowling is working on a new novel for adults, I couldn't help but think that this is exactly the kind of departure novel many people would imagine she'd write (though for my money, I'm betting that she does something drastically different from the Harry Potter franchise). Erin Morgenstern's debut is set within a traveling circus, Les Cirque Des Reves, that moves from place to place, appears without warning, and only opens between dusk and dawn. It's a world that's as magical and as richly imagined as Hogwarts was. The descriptions of the elegant, luminous sights that fill the circus, set off against its simple black, white, and red color scheme, set a very distinctive mood that seems destined to be adapted into a film version. And yet, any film adaptation, relying on sight and sound alone, would miss out on some of the most magical details of all-- the delectable scents that fill the air, the delicious tastes of the treats at the refreshment stands, and the mysterious feelings that engulf visitors as they wander the circus.
Where my Harry Potter comparison falls apart, however, is with the plot itself. The Night Circus follows two storylines, that of Celia and Marco, two opposing magicians who are engaged in a secret battle of skill that results in increasingly fanciful and amazing feats within the circus, and that of Poppet, Widget, and Baily, a group of younger characters who represent the next generation of the circus. Although I was intrigued to see how their stories intersected at the end, I ultimately wasn't as interested in any of them as I was in the vivid descriptions of the circus. While Rowling used her wizarding world as a vehicle for an epic story that's sustained over seven books, this novel felt like it had the opposite construction, with the story dragged out and chopped up to serve as a vehicle for furthering the meticulously detailed setting.
A plot that doesn't live up to its setting may sound like a huge flaw, but in this case I really don't think it is. The circus that Morgenstern has imagined is unlike anything else I've read. It's a fun world to escape into and makes this a novel well worth reading.