So here's my first foray into the world of video blogging and the world of BookTube. However, I decided to add a little twist to my videos: combine book reviews with an outdoor settings. Today I got out in the snow and reviewed Erin Morgenstern's The Night Circus at Blandford Nature Center. Enjoy!
Two young illusionists are tapped at a young age to compete in a life-long challenge until one of them wins — meaning the other one dies. There are no rules, and it’s not clear how the game is played, only that each illusionist must use his or her magical powers on a “chessboard” which, it turns out, is the circus itself (called Le Cirque des Rêves). The story jumps around in time and perspective (I believe there are 16 different points of views in the book), but everything comes together in the end.
The book has a very ethereal feel to it through all 400 pages, making for some intricate and other-worldly scenes. It all felt very “steampunk” to me, if you’re familiar with that term. The book is not a quick read — it spans 30 years of the characters’ lives (more if you consider back stories), and it jumps around not only in perspective but in time as well. If you’re one of those people that can read books twice, this might be a good book to read over again with new perspective. There’s a lot going on in the plot that doesn’t make much sense until later, and I have a feeling I missed a lot of things reading it the first time.
(Personally, I have too many books on my to-read list to read the same book twice, although I understand why other people do it.)
So here’s what I thought about the book — no spoilers:
Generally speaking, I thought the book was well-written; Morgenstern does an excellent job setting the mood and atmosphere with her language and structure choices. There were several references to Shakespeare, and I liked that this book forced me out of my comfort zone a bit. I’m not usually a fan of the supernatural or romance, and this book had a lot of both of those genres.
My favorite character was Poppet. She felt the least flat and cardboard-like, and Morgenstern allowed her to be a real person. But honestly, the main reason I liked reading this book because it was recommended by so many people I know, so now I can join the conversation — and let’s face it, there are a lot of conversations going on about this book.
This book felt really scattered and unfocused to me. I got the impression from all the positive reviews of this book that most folks actually enjoyed that element of the book. It feels like many of the people who loved this book spend a lot of time reading the the Young Adult genre; this isn’t a young adult book, though it has a lot of elements from the genre that appeal to its readers (fantasy, romance, mysterious goings-on that are never fully explained). The difference between this book and most YA books is that it moves fairly slowly. There’s lots of description and scene-setting, which if you’re not used to that kind of style (i.e. read lots of YA books), this book might seem sort of unique and, well, magical.
When it comes to the characters, I’m not sure I was ever fully engaged in the actual competition between the two protagonists. The stakes never seemed very high, because 1) it was never fully explained what the stakes were and 2) there was no ending of the competition. Supposedly the game doesn’t end until one of them dies, but how can you die when all you are doing is creating cool tents? (And believe me, these are some pretty cool tents — probably my favorite part about the book was reading about the various magical tents.)
The love story really could’ve used some more development (though I’ll admit a couple of stirrings deep in my chest at certain parts). I wished that each of the main characters, Celia especially, had more flaws to overcome (maybe that’s why YA folks love this book so much — I feel like, generally speaking, the YA genre doesn’t like its main characters to be too complex).
I also had a hard time following the timelines of this book, so if you haven’t read it yet, it might be worth it to take some notes about what happens when, at least mentally.
All in all, the book was worth reading. I’m giving it 3 snowballs out of 5, because of the risks the author took in writing it, and because it forced me out of my literary fiction genre a bit. Pick it up on sale if you get the chance, and definitely go see the movie when it comes out (because although there’s only just the beginning of a glimmer of a movie, we all know this book was written to eventually be a screenplay. Good for Morgenstern: I think all authors should make gobs and gobs of [ethical] money.)
Blandford Nature CenterI’m biased about Blandford Nature Center for several reasons: first, it’s really close to my house, and I love that there’s this bit of nature nestled in the middle of the western suburbs of Grand Rapids. I walk Howie here, I run here, I’ve even ridden my mountain bike on the trails (though I learned later that you are NOT supposed to do that — so please don’t be a jerk and ignore their rules).
I also love Blandford because it’s connected to my stepson Henry’s school, CA Frost Environmental Academy, which puts an emphasis on outdoor learning for kids, which I’m all about. Our family has a membership here, which is very affordable and goes to support a very good cause. I highly recommend you invest in a membership if you can swing it, because of the amazing resource this organization offers the community.
Blandford’s educational programs are also pretty fantastic, especially the SugarBush festival the Center puts on every year.
You can visit Blandford at 1715 Hillburn Ave NW in Grand Rapids, MI 49504, and cost of admission is $3 (which, come on people, is amazingly affordable, but if you’re a Grand Rapidian, you should definitely buy a membership).
Have you read The Night Circus? Let me know what you thought in the comments.
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Jill Hinton Wolfe