Recap: Gripping, spellbinding, and moving, The Night Circus tells the story of two children who are raised by their magical guardians to become great magicians themselves and battle to see who is better. Celia and Marco learn the basics of magic during their childhood years, knowing that eventually they’ll be competing in a game. They don’t know who will be their opponents or where they’ll play. But the two ultimately become involved in a circus — a night circus — open only from dusk til dawn.
Marco is the assistant to the circus director; Celia, a performer — the illusionist — showing off what her father taught her. The two use the circus as a public venue for their competition, creating vibrant, mystical tents that go far beyond what a normal circus engineer could create. Whereas people come to the circus, assuming its performers are manipulating tricks, Celia and Marco are using actual magic.
Little do they know, their game is affecting everyone involved in the circus, including Friedrick Herr Thiessen, who makes clocks for the circus; and Poppet and Widget, a set of twins who were born into the circus family and develop their own magical skills.
Suddenly, the game between Marco and Celia is not just a game. It’s real, and it gives the circus a life of its own. That only complicates things when the opponents inevitably fall for each other.
Analysis: Magic versus manipulation is a theme strung throughout this fantastical and romantic web of a story. Celia and Marco insist they don’t manipulate; they perform real magic to create the trickery on display at the circus. But as much as they’d like to think otherwise, they are also masters of manipulation. They control the entire circus and in some mystical way, the lives of those involved in it. Celia and Marco are constantly trying to juxtapose manipulation and magic, when in reality, they’re proof that the two in inherently linked.
Another important factor in the novel is time. The story takes place in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s, a time period in which magic and the circus was hugely popular. Author Erin Morganstern emphasizes the importance of the time and setting with the book’s format. Each chapter and section is dated, explicitly showing the timeline of the story. When a subplot about a boy named Bailey enters the novel, two timelines converge — one moving forward, another moving back. Of course, there are the not-so-subtle winks at time as well, such as Friedrick Herr Thiessen’s clockwork.
The beauty of this story is the relationship between Marco and Celia; they start off as opponents and end as lovers. Once they realize what a large part they play in the circus, they’re willing to sacrifice it all for each other and, more importantly, the future of the circus. Their ability to make magic might die, but they still want the public to experience it.
MVP: Celia. She’s the one with the most talent and power, but she controls it. She uses it for the right reasons, knowing that her actions affect far more people than herself.