Please note that I gave this book 1.5 stars and rounded it up to 2 stars on Goodreads.
I always feel out of step withe everyone after I read a book that has been almost universally raved and I can't stand it. I loved the cover, the premise, this whole book sounded right up my alley. And then I started to read it.
"The Night Circus" is about two men who ultimately set up a competition between two people where they don't explain the rules besides saying now and again one of you has to win in the end.
Ceila arrives on her father's doorstep when she is six and he realizes she has the same talent that he does to manipulate things around him. He then introduces her to a man in a grey suit (seriously he is always in grey and half the time I forgot his name) and lays a wager. Ceila knows that one day she and another person are going to be in a duel until one of them wins. She just doesn't know when it is going to start. The man in grey goes to an orphanage and picks a boy and takes him to train. So the book goes back and forth between them. We see Ceila being emotionally and physically abused by her father. And we see Marco treated like an annoyance at best.
Then we fast forward to a character named Chandresh Christophe Lefevre who has invited some other guests to his home in order to have them help him with his idea of an circus. These other characters (who we revisit again and again) are Ethan Barris, Tante Padva, and Tara and Lainie Burgess. We then have the beginnings of "Le Cirque des Rêves" or the Circus of Dreams.
Ceila goes and gets a job at the circus, while Marco uses a woman who he knows is in love with him to also get a job at the circus when Marco realizes that Ceila is his competitor. So we get the barest of motivations by two terrible men and we have Ceila and Marco realizing that the circus is to be their venue to show which one is better.
Like I said before, I liked Ceila. I think that she was definitely stronger than Marco. However, I had a big problem with the love story aspect of the book. I honestly did not think that she cared or was attracted to Marco. In fact, I thought she and another character were attracted to each other. Frankly. that at least would have made the book marginally more interesting.
Marco sucked. I hated his character from beginning to end. I think it's because he did whatever he wanted and justified it. He used one woman and justified it later by saying that he never said he loved her. He manipulated one poor man's mind and it was causing him to go slowly insane and acted as if it was the man's fault. I can go on. I just thought he was terrible.
The other characters in this book didn't do it for me. We have two twins (Poppet and Widget) born in the circus who I thought the book was setting them up one way, but ultimately not in the end. We have the character of Bailey who I was interested in, but honestly don't see why he was even introduced and the hand-waving to make him suddenly important was a joke. The only interesting thing about Bailey was his connection to Poppet.
The writing was lyrical at first. And then it pretty much all fell down after a while. It started to get way too purple prose for me and the repetitiveness of certain words used over and over again started to make me bored while reading (not a good thing). In fact, I want to know if Erin Morgenstern knows about any spice besides cinnamon or anything that does not have caramel on it since that seemed to be the only thing that she ever kept saying over and over again besides cocoa. I don't like books telling you that the dish that came out was the best thing ever and then don't describe it, or when they do, it sounds terrible, like a pigeon covered in cinnamon does not sound appetizing to me. Oh you will be happy to know that somehow the circus even invented cinnamon buns (yeah).
The only writing that I really did like was the first person chapters when the author made you part of the book and had you exploring the circus. That made it feel more real to me. But other than that, this book dragged terribly.Also for a book that is supposed to take place in the late 1800s and early 1900s it sure as heck did not read that way to me at all. At one point I even said to myself how in the world do they have a train that somehow can cross across oceans apparently since they are traveling to the United States, as well as London, China, etc. I know, I know, magic, but it's little stuff like that when not explained that bugged me immensely while reading.
The flow was awful. I had to keep checking the chapter heading to keep an eye on the date/year and who the chapter would be about. We bounced between Marco, Ceila, Bailey, a man who created the clock at the circus, the planners of the circus, Marco's lover Isobel. It was too many people. I think it would have been better to have focused on the world-building aspect of it. I still don't get how Marco was able to manipulate certain things. I got Ceila's ability a bit more because we actually got to see how she was trained by her father (who is a psychopath). The timeline got messed up towards the end. We read about an event, and suddenly it is a year later and I honestly said what when that happened. I feel like I missed several pages.
The setting of the circus sounded great, but there was a lot that was not explained very well. And the duel itself was pretty much a joke. My big problem with most of the book though is that Erin Morgenstern does not do a great job of showing how in the world Ceila is as connected to the circus as she is. There is a whole plot point concerning Ceila and the circus that came out of left field. Considering she was not one of the original planners and had nothing to do with the setup I don't get it. I would get the circus being able to be harmed if one of the original people who set it up was in danger or died.
Also things were thrown in there here and there and I would have liked if that had been set up while we read. For example, it comes up that the Burgess sisters were behind living statues in the circus. Well that is not even introduced until around the 60 or 70 percent into the book. There were things like that all over. A detail would be provided and it was implied that was the way it always had been that had not been set up properly at all.
The ending was a joke. I rolled my eyes so hard. And it was laughable at best on how it was left that the story of the night circus was told.