(review originally posted on my livejournal account: http://intoyourlungs.livejournal.com/23839.html)
I actually didn't hear about this book until I read a review for it over at The Book Smugglers. Both Thea and Ana gave the book great reviews, and they're reviewers I trust, so when this book came out on the shelves September 13, I was really excited. It also helped that I had come across more reviews since then that vouched for this book's awesomeness. I wasn't able to get around to actually borrowing it from work until the beginning of October, but that only made me crave the book more.
Alas, I wish I could have been one of those people that absolutely LOVED this book, but I wasn't. I liked it enough, but definitely not love.
I think part of what made this book a bit of a let-down was that the first 100 pages had me completely enthralled. I absolutely loved the descriptions of the magical Night Circus, and the set-up of pitting Marco and Claire against each other had me intrigued and excited (reminded me of The Prestige, but it ended up being a lot less intense.)
My hugest misgiving with The Night Circus was its lack of character development. The character that probable gets the most development is the Night Circus itself; its lush and fantastical descriptions really made it come alive, and it was a place that I wished very fervently to be real. But other than that, the main characters Marca and Clair were very lacking. They're kind of just there; we learn very little of their past, their motivations, their star-crossed love (which I'll get to in a bit).. anything! I constantly wanted more from them and it wasn't delivered. I know the circus was supposed to be the star of this novel, and that was executed wonderfully, but I don't want that at the expense of development from the human characters.
Actually, now that I think about it, the secondary characters were even more developed than Clair and Marco, though they also suffered from being given only surface details and not much else. I think my favorite of all the secondary characters was the enigmatic Tsukiko. Finding out about HER past was a bit of a shocking revelation, but I wish I could have been given more on that front as well. The twins were a second favorite, as they probably had the most life and spirit to them.
My second misgiving with The Night Circus was Marco and Claire's love. The odd thing is, I wasn't even that turned off by the semi insta-love that happened. Given the bond that was forced on them at a young age, I wasn't at all surprised that they would be drawn to one another. Also, the revelation that Tsukiko was a magician and was reciprocally in love with her challenger made me wonder if Claire and Marco were doomed to love one another from the start. No, what bothered me about their romance was that I didn't care about them, which made it difficult for me to be invested in their relationship. It didn't help that I thought Marco was a bit of a dick; he leaves poor Isabelle hanging and takes his sweet time telling her that he was pursuing a relationship with another woman. Just, ugh, NOT COOL.
My third misgiving with The Night Circus was whole idea of The Game. Claire and Marco are pitted against each other when they're children because their tutors/masters want to play some kind of game, where they keep tally of their scores by pitting their pupils against one another. They decide to use The Night Circus as the arena for their game. That's pretty much all you know about it all. I could never figure out the end game of The Game; we're Claire and Marco supposed to eventually end up in some kind of epic Last Battle? It was mentioned several times that it was a test of endurance. What were they supposed to endure exactly? Claire was the driving force behind the fire at the Circus, which powered it in the first place. Is that what they meant? As you can see, I have a lot of questions, but I wasn't given very many answers, and while some people might find the enigma charming, I find it mostly annoying.
All this makes it seem like I really didn't like this book at all. This wasn't really the case. While I had some hefty misgivings with plot and characterization, I was very happy with the writing itself. Like I've mentioned before, I loved the descriptions of the Night Circus itself. Morgenstern really brought the place to life. The writing throughout the rest of the novel had that dash of whimsy and magic that gave it an edge and gave it all a little je ne sais quoi. I know good writing isn't enough to make a good novel, but it did save this novel from being a complete flop and made me a little more forgiving towards the bigger misgivings I had.
Final Verdict: I wish I could have fallen in love with this novel, but alas, it wasn't meant to be. While I absolutely loved the writing and the character of the Night Circus itself (despite being a place, it really does come to life and feel like a character in and of itself) the lack of characterization and the vague plot had me constantly wanting more. Because of my detachment with the two main characters, I wasn't able to get on board with their star-crossed romance, which was a huge aspect of the plot along with The Game. The constant sense of wanting more is what kept this book in the "Like" zone as opposed to "Love", which is a shame.