Locus Award for Best First Novel (2012)

A circus that comes in the night, without warning, like none you have ever seen before. All in black-and-white and shades of gray, you wander among tents both big and small, finding acrobats, a maze of clouds, a fortune teller, a garden of ice, a contortionist, and plenty of scrumptious food covered in caramel and cinnamon. The circus is pure magical entertainment for many, but it’s also the stage for a battle that has been culminating for years. Two young illusionists, each adopted by bitter old rivals, are trained from childhood to compete in a game for which neither knows the rules.

The Night Circus is a lovely fairy tale story, and I am captured by its charm from the first chapter. The third person omniscient storytelling renders a dream-like quality as you experience all manner of delights within the circus, and as you learn about the people who created the circus and those caught up in its current-day web. This isn’t a novel with very much action or adventure, but instead spreads its magic over a decade of turn-of-the century western-world ambiance.

There’s also the magical duel, contrasted by a forbidden romance between the two young illusionists, which is a nice in a nonthreatening way. Neither had a normal or safe childhood, and were forced to endure psychotic father figures who see them as only as tools for their own egos. So, you know, they have a lot in common. The romance is there for your enjoyment, but that isn’t what makes the book memorable for me.

Recommended for fans of Neil Gaiman’s Stardust, Diana Wynne Jones’ Howl’s Moving Castle, or Susanna Clarke’s Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, and fans of magical possibilities.

“We lead strange lives, chasing our dreams around from place to place.”