13.17–The Night Circus

13.17–The Night Circus

I am so excited to review this one. The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern is a thing of beauty. If there was a single flaw, I was completely unaware of it. It is a magical, captivating novel, and I adored every second I got to spend with it.

Goodreads Summary

“The circus arrives without warning. No announcements precede it. It is simply there, when yesterday it was not. Within the black-and-white striped canvas tents is an utterly unique experience full of breathtaking amazements. It is called Le Cirque des Rêves, and it is only open at night.

But behind the scenes, a fierce competition is underway: a duel between two young magicians, Celia and Marco, who have been trained since childhood expressly for this purpose by their mercurial instructors. Unbeknownst to them both, this is a game in which only one can be left standing. Despite the high stakes, Celia and Marco soon tumble headfirst into love, setting off a domino effect of dangerous consequences, and leaving the lives of everyone, from the performers to the patrons, hanging in the balance.”

The novel is set in the Victorian Era, but has no coherent timeline. Almost every chapter is set in a year different from the previous chapter, so that the reader has to put the story line together on his or her own, a trait which I loved.  It made the novel just as elusive as the Cirque itself, and it caused me to devour every page faster than the last so I could find the next piece of the puzzle.  The time period in which it sets is part of what makes it so incredibly beautiful.  Sumptuous silks, brocades, and velvets; dancing flames and primitive electricity; trains; cities just beginning to bustle with industry; opera; theater; elegant parties and dinners…the world of the circus performers is glamorous with an undercurrent of repressed sexuality and magic.  The setting itself, even without the plot, is wholly unique and captivating.

There is something so impossible about the circus itself that makes it difficult to describe in any review.  It is more than just the fact that it opens only at night and is deserted by day, or that everything within it is black and white, and it’s full of people who can work real magic, rather than just sleights of hand.  It’s more than the two powerful magicians who oversee the work of their students.  Perhaps it’s the romance of the “love letters” that Celia and Marco create for each other, or the fact that each member of the circus is suspended in time, as is the circus itself.  Whatever it is, the pervading air of somethingness, of otherness, about Le Cirques des Rêves truly invites you in and makes you comfortable.  I found myself simultaneously wanting to find out how it would end and wishing it would never end so I could stay inside the gates of Le Cirque des Rêves as long as possible.

Speaking of ending, I loved it.  It was perfect.  Morgenstern sets up a horrible situation that it was difficult to imagine a way out of for Celia and Marco.  Yet one forgets that in this world of Morgenstern’s creation, magic is possible and the possibilities go on forever. I enjoyed her solution to the conflict.  It wasn’t perfectly happy and it wasn’t piss-your-reader-off tragic.  It was just right.  Literally everything about this novel was perfect from beginning to end, and I truly applaud Morgenstern for writing one of the best novels I’ve ever read in my life.

Sadly, I’ve discovered that it’s going to be made into a movie.  It’s only of those novels that is so incredibly perfect, and so much fun to imagine for yourself, that I don’t even want to see the trailer.  I don’t want any director’s limited vision ruining what Morgenstern has so perfectly created in my imagination.

12.23–Entwined

12.23–Entwined

Entwined by Heather Dixon is an absolutely beautiful rendition of The Twelve Dancing Princesses fairy tale.  I was skeptical at first, mostly because I’m skeptical of a lot of YA these days.  There is a huge amount of it being released, and not a lot of it is well-written.  Heather Dixon, however, is an author that promises and then delivers. I cannot wait for more of her work!

I was surprised by how many people I’ve talked to that don’t know the story of The Twelve Dancing Princesses. The basic plot of the original fairy tale is: there are twelve princesses who sneak out of their room every night into a magical fairy land and dance until dawn.  The King is very perplexed by the mystery of their worn-out dancing slippers, which were new the morning before, and decrees that the man who can find out where they go every night may have the hand of the eldest princess.  The premise behind this novel is very similar to this, though it has been fleshed out to create a full-blooded story.  For instance, Dixon answers the question of why the princesses have to sneak out and dance, rather than simply dancing in their palace.  She’s also created a lot of history and backstory for her fictitious kingdom, and her characters sparkle (Figuratively. Used to be we could say that and everyone would know they didn’t literally sparkle, but thanks to Stephanie Meyer…).  And to add an element of darkness, there is an evil enchanter lurking in the fairy pavilion where they go to dance.  His name is Mr. Keeper, and he likes to keep things.

In this story, we get to know each princess, though the heroine is the eldest, Azalea.  Each sister has a unique personality: Azalea is maternal and feels responsible for her younger siblings. Bramble is fiery, temperamental, and wild. Clover is beautiful, sweet, and shy. You get the idea. But I like that Dixon made an attempt to make each of these twelve girls unique. Twelve is a lot of personalities to invent! Especially when you take into account that they are not the only characters in the novel.

Mr. Keeper is delightfully evil.  In the beginning he is dashing and charming, with a slightly sexy, dangerous air.  As the novel progresses, he reveals his true colors, and his true identity–neither of which, I’ll confess, I predicted.  I mean, I knew he was the bad guy, but I didn’t know he was that bad.

And then, of course, there are the relationships between the characters.  This is something that is always really important to me. The relationship between Azalea and her sisters is fiercely loyal and yet sweet.  The relationship between the girls and their father is strained and heartbreaking, though eventually his attitude toward them begins to thaw.  And the romance! It’s all so sweet! And innocent. I just love an innocent, slow-blooming romance in which both parties don’t even realize that they’ve fallen in love until some great event leads them to realize they cannot live without each other.

There were inconsistencies in Dixon’s writing. For instance, about three-quarters of the way through the book, she started italicizing words for emphasis a lot more than she did in the previous quarters.  It was bizarre and a little off-putting.  Still, the plot was fantastic, especially toward the end, so it didn’t really take away from the overall story much.  I think Dixon has a really stellar novel here, and I highly recommend it to anyone who is thinking of reading it. Like Peri, for instance :) Enjoy!


12.12–Shaman’s Crossing

12.12–Shaman’s Crossing

I just realized that I’m only on my 12th blog of the year. Kind of sad considering how many books I read last year. I will try to be more on top of both reading and blogging.

The novel about which I post today I picked up in the airport as I was leaving Belfast for Barcelona.  I felt a desperate need for high fantasy that was nearly unquenchable the entire time I was in Ireland.  Unable to find a book quite small enough to carry about with me, I settled on Shaman’s Crossing because Robin Hobb was a name I knew from working in the bookstore. Sadly, it was not at all the fantasy I desired.  Having my high expectations dashed by the book I choose seems to be a common theme these days. Still, it wasn’t bad and it certainly wasn’t boring.

Hobb’s novel tells the story of a boy named Nevarre, who has known his destiny from the moment of his father’s promotion to noble status. As a second son, he is destined for the King’s cavalla (the cavalry of the nation) and a glorious future as an officer in the military.  But his father’s well-intentioned hiring of a savage instructor to give Nevarre’s military education a (somewhat unfair) boost results in a change to Nevarre’s character that haunts and hounds him for the rest of the novel.  He is possessed by an old spirit that tugs him against his loyalties and his destiny.  It sounds as though the reader should have a clear idea of which side of him they’d like to win, but in reality I was very torn. I felt, almost, that I was rooting for the wrong side at all times.

Hobb’s novel has an interesting and somewhat unique plot, though the style in which it’s written is somewhat generic and dull.  There is not much about her writing style or word choice to latch on to.  She tells the story and that’s that.  The cast of characters that she creates, especially Nevarre’s roguish cousin Epiny, is varied and well-rounded, with plenty of heroes to encourage and villains to hate. Nevarre’s patrol-mates have a lot of learning to do over the course of the novel, and they each deal differently with the suffering inflicted on them by the older cadets in the academy.  Hobb has a decent grasp of human psychology, and the myriad possible ways different people can react to the same situation.  Though the novel is ultimately about Nevarre, she has a very large group of characters to develop and maintain, and she does this very well.

Epiny is in a class of her own. By far my favorite character of all, she is everything a proper Victorian lady is not.  She is loud and out-spoken, spoiled, flighty, flirty, and a dabbler in the occult arts.  This practice is encouraged by her mother, who sees it as a way to court favor with the Queen, and despised by her father as a dangerous phase that could get his senseless daughter in trouble. Despite the fact that everyone views her as unruly, stubborn, and somewhat airheaded, Epiny proves that she has both a sharp mind and genuine conjuring powers. In a book that can at times be very heavy, dark, and unsettling, Epiny is usually the lighthearted comic relief that always comes at much-needed moments.

Being a book that is almost 600 pages long, a detailed account of the plot would be too onerous. All I’ll say is that, of course, Nevarre’s path goes wildly off course (isn’t that always the way of it?) and he must use everything he’s learned in his short experience to defeat both corporeal and phantom enemies.  It is sluggish at times, but for the most part was an entertaining read. If you’re looking for a novel to read on your vacation this summer, this one is interesting enough to keep you piqued and long enough to last you a whole trip.