After reading the rave reviews for this book and deciding that I needed to make some forays into contemporary fantasy, I checked it out of the Speed Reads—one week to finish and then a fine of twenty-five cents a day.
I've always liked the circus and find the stories of people who join the circus fascinating. Morgenstern weaves a tale that utilizes the magic of the circus as a backdrop for a wager between two magicians—Hector and Alexander. Each conjurer thinks that he is the superior prestidigitator. Hector bets that his daughter, Celia, can compete and win against any student Alexander sets up against her.
They don't know the boundaries of the contest—where it will take place or even how the winners will be determined. Even the two children will not know of the contest.
Each conjurer prepares their charge, often in frightening ways. Hector breaks Celia's bones and cuts her fingers so that she can learn to mend things. Marco, Alexander's charge is taken from an orphanage and spends years reading. Neither child has a normal upbringing—they lack friends, family and love.
In order to tie everything together and move the plot along Morgenstern conjures up a theatre producer who wants to create an entertainment that envelopes the viewer and is unlike any previous circus. And the circus that emerges in 1886 is unlike any other circus. It is easy to become so infatuated that you never want to return to ordinary time.
It is in this circus that Marco and Celia, as adults, work. Celia transforms things while Marco tends the white bonfire that is the engine of the entire production.
Setting this up allows Morgenstern to involve herself in utter play—things shift and are transformed. But even with these wonderful enchanting delights there's an ominous sense about the entire circus.
Obviously, if you've been brought up on fairy tales, you know that Marco and Celia will fall in love and that will complicate the test.
Despite the engaging characters and the magical sequences and the ominous signs, something is missing. The lead characters in the pageant need to be better developed especially as the story moves ahead and everyone involved with the circus realizes that it all may implode at any moment.