This is a novel of magic, illusion (magical, mechanical and emotional), gameplay and love, set at the turn of the twentieth century in Europe and the USA. These are the first lines that I read.
The circus arrives without warning.
No announcements precede it, no paper notices on downtown posts and billboards, no mentions or advertisements in local newspapers. It is simply there, when yesterday it was not.
To me, this opening does two things. It announces the arena that the novel will take place in, the circus, and it employs the magic of the circus (that most of will have experienced) to pull us in as an audience. We want to read on and find out what happens.
The various cover designs (my copy looked like the one above) are all predominated by the colours of black and white, with a touch of red, a perfect reflection of the novel.
The towering tents are striped in white and black, no golds or crimsons to be seen. No colour at all, save for the neighbouring trees and the grass of the surrounding fields. Black-and-white stripes on grey sky; countless tents of varying shapes and sizes, with an elaborate wrought-iron fence encasing them in a colourless world.
The novel is structured in a similar way to the circus itself.
The Whole of Le Cirque de Reves is formed by series of circles. Perhaps it is a tribute to the origin of the word "circus," deriving from the Greek kirkos meaning circle, or ring. There are many such nods to the phenomenon of the circus in a historical sense, though it is hardly a traditional circus. Rather than a single tent with rings enclosed within, the circus contains clusters of tents like pyramids, some large and others quite small. They are set within circular paths, contained within a circular fence. Looping and continuous.
- Friedrick Thiessen, 1892
Similarly, the novel leads us along many paths whose endings are hidden and presents us with a delightful temptation of tents in the form of involving stories and rich characters.
- There is the description of the experience of the circus through seemingly anonymous eyes that begins the novel.
- The writings of Friedrick Thiessen, master clockmaker and the original reveur.
- The story of two apprentice magicians and illusionists (neither term truly describes them), Celia and Marco, set against each other in a battle of magic.
- The establishment of the circus by theatre master, Chandresh Christophe Lefevre and an unusual gathering of like-minded people.
- The lives of the circus people themselves and their intrinsic connection to the circus.
- The Reveurs, the followers of the Night Circus.
- Finally, there is the story of a boy called Bailey, not a circus person, who finds a place to belong.
By the end of the novel, I felt like one of the Reveurs, as if I had been given a glimpse into and become part of the magical, theatrical experience of the Night Circus.