The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern tells the tale of two real life illusionists, Marco Alisdiar and Celia Bowen, who, although being wagered against each other in a deadly battle of magic unlike the world has ever seen, end up subverting the laws of their masters by falling in love.
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The story begins with Celia as, following her mother's mysterious suicide at five-years-old, she is handed over to her arrogant father, known popularly as Prospero the Entertainer. Although Prospero operates as a magician in mainstream society, few people understand that his powers are real. He is not interested in acting as a father to Celia, but upon witnessing her exhibit inbred magical talent, contacts his old mentor, Mr. AH, to arrange a wager. The two end up agreeing to the terms of a duel that will essentially test the ways of old magic versus the new. It will take place at an unspecified time in the future, after Mr. AH has been able to properly train a pupil of his own. Mr. AH adopts Marco from an orphanage and immediately begins schooling him on the ways of old magic. Upon reaching eighteen-years-old, Mr. AH sends him to work as an assistant for Chandresh Christophe Lefevre, an eccentric and effete millionaire who goes on to found what is known as the Night Circus, a place where wonders converge unlike anywhere else in the world. In what seems like an orchestration engineered by Prospero, Celia, after demonstrating her prowess, is also hired to work as an illusionist for Chandresh. She and Marco do not know of each other's identities, as they are being played by their respective masters like pieces on a chessboard.
When Marco discovers his opponent, he requests the aid of his girlfriend, Isobel, to spy on Celia in attempt to plot out her next move. Isobel, a reader of Tarot cards with powers of her own, casts a ‘tempering' spell upon the circus, making sure that its powers won't be unbalanced as magic begins to run throughout. Celia begins to suspect Marco is her opponent as time goes on, and the two of them attempt and outdo each other, using the Night Circus as a stage for their shows. Celia performs incredible acts of illusion, from convincing her audiences they are on fire to creating carousels with living animals and changing their appearances. As they compete, their grueling competition evolves into love.
As the novel reaches its crescendo, Marco's and Celia's love for each other ends up becoming dangerous to all those involved. Celia's illusions have promulgated to such a degree that being distracted by her own emotions leads to the death of Tara Burgess, a founding member of the Night Circus. Isobel then discovers that Marco is in love with Celia and, in her anger, removes the tempering spell she'd previous caste. With that gone, foulness and danger takes hold. Chandresh, drunk and driven mad by the imbalance in the air, for instance, ends up murdering Herr Friedrick Thiessen, a brilliant clockmaker.
In the final pages, Celia, exhausted by the competition, confides in Marco that she wishes to kill herself so that he can emerge the victor. On the one year anniversary of Thiessen's death, however, Marco is exacting a plan to trap himself inside a cauldron in the circus courtyard. Such an act will end both the competition and his life. Before he can throw himself in, however, Celia reaches out and grabs Marco's hand. Based on an incantation she learned from her father, she de-atomizes both herself and Marco, rendering the two of them ghost-like creatures that exist between the afterlife and the world as we know it. Forever bound to the Night Circus, Celia and Marco enjoy each other's eternal love, wandering the grounds together for the rest of the time.
Best part of story, including ending:
I like this story for the way in which the author treats magic, and puts a fresh spin on the genre she's working within.
Best scene in story:
I really like the scene where Celia convinces the audience that their chairs are on fire. Mostly because it reveals morbidity on behalf of her character.
Opinion about the main character:
I like that Celia maintains a weariness mostly seen in male characters. It's refreshing.