by Erin Morgensternages: 16+ (shelved in the Adult Fiction section of my library)
First sentence: “The circus arrives without warning.”
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I am inherently suspicious of anything that receives an inordinate amount of buzz. (Which is why I have yet to read The Help.) People have told me it’s just sour grapes; that if I would just catch a book early enough, I wouldn’t have this violently negative reaction to hip and popular books.
But when Corinne said that I should read it, I listened.
I’ll be frank here: there is a plot to this book, but it’s pretty predictable and fairly cliche. In the end, it’s your basic Romeo and Juliet love story. Two magicians from two differing schools of thought pit their students against one another. This time it’s Celia and Marco. They’re never supposed to meet, they’re not supposed to even know who the other is; yet, they find out, and fall in love. Of course there are ramifications, of course there are hazards and heartbreak.
That’s not the point of the book, though.
The point of the book is the atmosphere. It’s a very slow moving book, one that luxuriates in the descriptions of the circus, of clothes, of the food, of the magic. It’s not a spare and poetic book, but rather weighty and opulent: there’s scenes that for plot purposes probably don’t need to be there, but because they add to the atmosphere and mood of the book, fit perfectly. There’s characters wandering in and out of the book that have little to do with the plot, and yet they add to the carnival-esque feeling. It reminded me strongly of Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norell; the use of magic is unique and traditional at the same time. Morgenstern uses stage magicians as a launching point, musing on the idea of an the illusion actually not being an illusion. And, surprisingly for me: the book is written in the present tense while still flitting back and forth in time. Usually, this drives me batty, but in this book, in this setting, it worked. (I didn’t even notice until I was halfway through. Which says much.)
I do recognize that all this all might be a downer for some people; I’m not expecting to add to the hype for this book. I don’t think it’s the next Harry Potter, or even the next “big thing”. But, in many ways it is worth the hype: it’s a beautiful, descriptive, haunting and gorgeous book.