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The circus is coming . . .

Thrilling news, but only the reveurs — the dreamers sweetly obsessed by the mysterious night circus —  hear it ahead of time. Otherwise, the circus appears without warning, its black-and-white tents suddenly there. Le Cirque de Reves:  Opens at nightfall, closes at dawn.

 Step right up! This way to the Hall of Mirrors, that tent for the Cloud Maze! Get lost in the Labyrinth, pause in the  Garden of Ice! Marvel at the flying kittens, the living statues, the contortionist in the glass box, the illusionist with birds of feather and fire! Follow the Tunnel of Stars to catch the Carousel! Right this way, past the towering clock and glowing bonfire! Have a sugar flower, or a caramel apple! Step right up!

Prepare to be enchanted by Erin Morgenstern’s extravagantly imaginative debut novel The Night Circus. Magical and mysterious, it is indeed the stuff that dreams are made of. The turn-of-the century villagers who wander spellbound from tent to tent are unaware the circus is really an arena in which two sorcerers,  trained since childhood, compete against one another in a duel of magical skill.  That it is a duel to the death even the adversaries, Celia and Marco, do not know. Of course they fall in love, and the fate of the circus — and all whose lives are entwined with it — hangs in the balance.

This is the major plot of  The Night Circus, but its various storylines are overshadowed by the authorial flourishes. You become so entranced by the scenery, Morgenstern’s phantasmagorical images and poetic prose, you almost forget the play and the players.  Intriguing characters such as clockmaker Frederick, the twins Poppet and Widget, dreaming farmboy Bailey, and fortuneteller Isobel, become lost in the shuffle of flashbacks, the swirl of smoke and mirrors.

Morgenstern characterizes The Night Circus as a fairy tale, and it is by way of  such modern masters as Angela Carter, Ray Bradbury, Susanna Clarke, Peter Beagle, and Neil Gaiman, as well as the Victorians and Grimm. But that you can see how she does it  doesn’t make her magic less impressive. Step right up!

Open Book: I first read a digital galley of Erin Morgenstern’s The Night Circus (Doubleday) provided by the publisher through NetGalley. But then when it came out in hardcover a couple of weeks ago, I bought a copy because it is such a beautiful book, inside and out.

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