As I believe I have mentioned here before, I am a member of Powell's Books' Indiespensible Book Club. The book club is awesome--every six or so weeks you get a beautiful hard back first edition of a book, typically signed, selected by the extremely knowledgeable Powell's staff, along with reading notes and some other type of goodies (usually thematically related to the book). The packages are fun to receive and the books are great!
The last installment, however, was a cut above the rest. Erin Morgenstern's The Night Circus was just phenomenal (plus it came with bourbon caramel corn!). The best way I can describe it is by comparison. It has the gothic romantic magic of Sarah Waters' books, the quirky love of and beauty in the bizarre of Katherine Dunn's Geek Love, and the soft, believable look at the otherwordly of Audrey Neffenegger. All three of those women are authors I love and respect, and Erin Morgenstern is now among them.
Much as The Night Circus reminds me of the other books I mentioned, though, it's a unique work. It's a fairy tale about a very special circus, but it's nowhere near so dark or twisted as it could be given that scene. The magic is, largely, used to create beauty and keep people safe, even when it's supposed to be more self-serving. Though there is a tragic core to the story, it's much less grim than it could be, or than it would be in other hands. Had someone told me that before I read it, I think I would have been very suspicious--I don't like my fairy tales retold in golden tones by Disney. But in Morgenstern's book, it works. Though I was sure early on that things were going to turn out OK, that didn't ruin the surprise in how the characters got there.
One of the book's greatest strengths is the lush tone in which it is written, heavy with description. It reminds me a bit of another circus story that way, Sara Gruen's Water for Elephants. Though I am sadly not someone who typically sees pictures in my mind when I read, Morgenstern's attention to detail and careful language allowed a mental picture of the circus and its inhabitants to paint itself in my mind, with the end result being a reading experience that felt almost multimedia. With a story like this one, for which so much depends on the reader feeling the joy and delight of the magic, that element is essential, and it's very, very well done here.
Ultimately, The Night Circus felt a little bit like a ratcheted-up children's book to me, in the best possible way. Things were never made any worse than they needed to be, but were kept interesting enough for my adult attention span. Though there were no actual pictures, I could see lush illustrations in my head. And the story, at its core, was a simple and universal one about true love conquering over dark forces in its way. We could all use a little bit more of that.