Title: The Night Circus
Author: Erin Morgenstern
Narrator: Jim Dale
ISBN: 9780307938909
Pages: 387 pages
Dics/Cds: 13.5 hours, 11 CDs
Publisher/Date: Doubleday, c2011.
Publication Date: Sept. 13, 2011

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.
The towering tents are striped in white and black, no golds and crimsons to be seen. No color at all, save for the neighboring 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 colorless world. Even what little ground is visible from outside is black or white, painted or powdered, or treated with some other circus trick.
But it is not open for business. Not just yet.(3)

Celia Bowen is apprenticed to her magician father. Marco has been adopted from an orphanage by a competing magician. While they both are separately aware that they are being prepared for a “game”, neither one of them are knowledgable about the rules. When they finally meet through their roles in the formation of a circus, Le Cirque des Reves, Marco realizes instantly that this is the woman he’s been training to beat. But as the years pass with no clear winner or end in sight, both Celia and Marco become tired and press for more information from their mentors. When the rules of the game finally become clear, they realize that they and the circus might have more to lose than they originally thought.

You just can’t go wrong with Jim Dale as a narrator! His voice is seductive when describing the love that two of the characters share. The scenes where he takes on the voice of the reader visiting the circus is also perfectly pitched, making the writing sound like a Choose Your Own Adventure Novel rather than a regular book. Picking up the printed copy and reading those opening lines months later, I still hear his voice and narration, drawing readers into the mystery and magic that make up the circus.

It helps that he has amazing writing to fall back on. It’s no wonder that everyone is clamoring to claim a copy of this debut novel by Erin Morgenstern. The descriptions of the circus include not just the sights and sounds but the tastes and textures. Circus tents and their contents play a massive role in the tale, and Morgenstern intersperses the tale with second person point of view narration detailing their make and design, which range from the more conventional fortune-teller, magician, and suspended acrobats to a fantastical library of memories triggered by smells and a wishing tree lit by candles. The magic and amazement are palatable, and I was left wishing that such a circus truly existed just so that I could see it for myself.

The publishers tip the author’s hat a little too early in my opinion, because based on the jacket copy readers go into the book knowing that Marco and Celia are going to fall in love. How the competition plays out is a series of interrelated and complicated actions that leave not one person responsible, but also prevents everyone from being wholly knowledgeable about what exactly happened. The mystery, intrigue, and romance dance around each other, until they draw to a climatic yet satisfying conclusion.

One of ten books chosen for the Alex Award, which is given to an adult book that has special appeal to young adults, this is a fascinating read for teens, and a patron I recommended it to raves about it months after the fact. You can contribute to the experience by listening to Erin Morgenstern’s playlist, which she lists in an interview with Largehearted Boy and makes available on her own website.