"The circus looks abandoned and empty. But you think perhaps you can smell caramel wafting through the evening breeze, beneath the crisp scent of the autumn leaves. A subtle sweetness at the edges of the cold." -- From The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern
I am floored at the starred reviews and attention this book is receiving. I've had it for months and, believe me, when I first heard of it, I WANTED it. Badly.
I'm a professional Tarot card reader, so I'm "into" the mystical and magical. Because Tarot cards make an appearance in this book, my interest in The Night Circus was heightened. The idea of a mysterious circus, only held at night, and dueling young magiicians that become lovers...irresistable! Perhaps even in the league of Potter, I surmised.
I'm not going to repeat plot points; you can find them elsewhere. What I WILL tell you is why The Night Circus didn't work for me, and why I gave up on it 100 pages into the book.
In an online Wall Street Journal piece about this book, the article begins with the statement that author Erin Morgenstern "has never published so much as a short story before".
I totally believe it. Granted, just because you haven't had a fiction piece published before doesn't mean that you haven't practiced writing for years, nor studied the craft.
But from early on in this book, I thought it read amateurish...like poorly written YA. I HATE that it interjects with the ill-suited POV of telling ME where I supposedly am, e.g. "You walk through the gate..." (something authors are warned about using, and for good reason). Not only does this POV pull you out of the other narratives (that is, another ill-chosen POV--2nd person, "the boy applauds..."), but it's irksome.
Although the young girl's magician father is cruel, opportunistic and abusive (this happens early on, so no spoiler there), I didn't feel very sorry for the girl--largely because the point of view and word choices wedged a gaping void between me and Celia. Same with the other characters, as well.
Some of the prose is stylized and interesting, but the plot is convoluted. By 100 pages we know there's a showdown coming but we don't CARE. (At least, I didn't). Nothing felt at stake here! The author hops about in time, back and forth, further distancing the reader from the characters AND the plot.
No, we don't know why the two adult magicians are making a diabolical "gentlemen's agreement" but, again, WHO CARES. I have no reason to pity Celia, or even like her. Same with Marco.
Several times, I had the thought "Ohhhh, this could be interesting!" But I kept getting disappointed that the plot didn't move forward (too busy flip flopping in different time periods), nor did the characters develop in a way to make them compelling.
Some may say "You owe this author more than 100 pages in order to make a judgment!"
You mean, if I slogged through the first 100--hoping, desperately hoping, that it got better because of the potential here--that I should waste my valuable time pushing through the next 300 pages? Why, I ask you?
It is the author's job to make me want to read; if after 100 pages and a good deal of anticipation/expectation I am becoming increasingly irritated and disappointed, I have every right to not only put the book down, but also share why I didn't like it--especially in the face of glowing reviews that I just. Don't. Get.
In deft hands, and with some tweaking, The Night Circus may have had some potential. But with the chosen point-of-views, weakly drawn characters, inexplicable convolutions and a "who gives a damn?" plot, it's one of the worst fiction books I've picked up this year.
-- Janet Boyer, Amazon Top/Vine Reviewer, author of Back in Time Tarot, Tarot in Reverse (Schiffer 2012) and the Snowland Tarot (Schiffer 2013). Featured in Tales of the Revolution: True Stories of People Who Are Poking the Box and Making a Difference (A Domino Project eBook edited by Seth Godin)