4/5 stars

Between econ midterms and bio labs, it can be easy to forget that in all of our lives, we need a little magic. Erin Morgenstern’s The Night Circus is the perfect whimsical novel to fill your winter break with a little romance, a little adventure and a lot of opportunity for escapism. Another take on the popular magic realism genre, The Night Circusis the perfect companion for a glass of eggnog and three full homework-free weeks.

The Night Circus is one of those books you wish was a movie; although well written, Morgenstern’s imagery is much better suited for the big screen than a few hundred pages of text. The novel draws readers into the Cirque des Rêves, a world with parties as extravagant as those from the pages of The Great Gatsby, romance pulled from Water for Elephants, and magic reminiscent of everyone’s favorite boy wizard, Harry Potter.

Although this combination has yielded one of the year’s most talked-about books — it has already gotten a film deal with Summit Entertainment — I found it to be a bit cliche and uncertain about just how much it wanted to venture into the realm of fantasy.

Set in a traveling circus of magical performers, the book explores the ageless rivalry between two competing wizards, Prospero the Enchanter and the mysterious Mr. A.H. The feud pairs two young, magically inclined surrogates, protagonists Celia and Marco, against each other. Oblivious both of each other and of the fatal consequences of their mentors’ game. Celia and Marco are primed from birth for a competition against each other. Does it sound like a bit like The Sorcerer’s Apprentice? Yes. Does that change the fact that it’s the kind of book you pull out for a plane ride home to keep you pleasantly distracted from your lack of leg room? Not at all.

Celia, Prospero’s daughter, lands a position at the travelling Cirque des Rêves, where she’s hired as an illusionist by the flamboyant Chandresh LeFevre, who is unaware that real magic exists. To put it in more familiar terms, she belongs at Hogwarts, and he’s just a Muggle. Marco, A.H.’s apprentice, works as LeFevre’s assistant, and gradually, the two teens discover that they are competing against each other in a battle whose rules and consequences still remain elusive to them. To Morgenstern’s credit, she does create a more unique method of passive warfare than wands or light sabers: Marco and Celia compete against each other by adding more and more elaborate tents to the circus. Carousels with mythical, living creatures, gardens made entirely of ice, a cloud maze where even the laws of gravity are defied — nothing is off limits for these young talents.

Predictably, the two magicians end up falling madly in love, and although the romance is a bit lackluster, it’s entertaining enough to not detract from the rest of the book, and there’s little enough of it to make skimming over it not distract from the plot.

Morgenstern’s jumps between decades, characters, and cities capture the dynamically shifting nature of the circus itself.

The Night Circus is Narnia without the wardrobe, a Fitzgerald novel set in a circus that disappears during the day, a Disneyland for your imagination. Although it followed a bit too closely in the footsteps of other blockbuster sensations for my tastes, it’s still the novel that should end up in homebound backpacks and on nightstands this winter break.

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