Ladies and Gentlemen! Step right up, and prepare to be enchanted by Erin Morgenstern's debut novel, "The Night Circus." The circus itself needs no barkers to bring crowds clamoring to its iron gates, replete as it is with magic and mystery, but I'm doing my part to shine a spotlight on the striped tents of Morgenstern's imagination.
Arriving with no fixed schedule and operating only from nightfall until dawn, Le Cirque des Rêves moves from city to city and across continents as the 1890s give way to the 1900s. Its power is drawn from two magicians who have been forced by their mentors into a battle neither understands. As their whimsical and increasingly interwoven attractions draw patrons out to spend the night hours wandering the tents, it dawns on Celia and Marco that their competition has a very dark side. Complicating things, they have wrapped enigmatic contortionist Tsukiko, kitten-taming twins Poppet and Widget, and other circus folk into their illusions. The stakes for the loser are tightrope-walker high, and the fallout immense.
Interspersed with the young conjurers' stories are beguiling vignettes of the circus marvels, as seen by outsiders. We also see the journeys of some of those outsiders, who travel twisting mazes that bring them to the nightmarish center of the Circus of Dreams.
As the man in the grey suit -- the shadowy magician who put all of this into motion -- tells Widget, "Someone needs to tell those tales. When the battles are fought and won and lost, when the pirates find their treasures and the dragons eat their foes for breakfast with a nice cup of Lapsang souchong, someone needs to tell their bits of overlapping narrative. There's magic in that. It's in the listener, and for each and every ear it is different, and it will affect them in ways they can never predict. From the mundane to the profound. You may tell a tale that takes up residence in someone's soul, becomes their blood and self and purpose. That tale will move them and drive them and who knows what they may do because of it, because of your words." Morgenstern assumes the bard's mantle with proficiency and leaves her readers wishing her words were all, somehow, true.
If the preamble -- so aptly titled "Anticipation" -- doesn't make you sit right down on the floor of your library or bookstore to see what Morgenstern conjures up next, you may not be the right reader for this novel. I'll wager, however, that you will fall quickly under her spell.
Melanie Cremins reads and writes about books at dakimel.blogspot.com/.