Audiobook Review: The Night Circus, by Erin Morgenstern

When I was eleven years old, I received Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone for Christmas. Since then, I have been waiting for an owl to perch on my windowsill and deliver an invitation to attend school at Hogwarts. Even after I was long past the age of Hogwarts invitations, a piece of me still held on to the hope that one day I would discover that behind the veil of the "real" world, there lay a world of magic and wizards and spells and wonder.

Not since I was eleven have I read a book that has had me longing to enter the world about which I read, yearning for some tip, some clue, some hint of a world of secret things and objects of amazement lying in wait. Until The Night Circus.

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.

These opening lines of Erin Morgenstern's debut novel set the tone for the entire book, inviting a sense of wonder, mystery, and an element of whimsy onto the page from the outset. Jim Dale's narration of the passage will send chills down any magic-lovers spine, and leave listeners tingling for more.

As the story develops, we learn that the circus itself is the public stage for a challenge between two magicians, both of whom display wonder after wonder to a wide-eyed and disbelieving audience. Here, then, is a place where magic is on display for all to see, but in a world where magic is believed to be the stuff of myth, the displays are thought to be nothing more than illusion, put on for the entertainment of a paying crowd.

What are the consequences of such actions? What happens when the illusion of illusions can no longer be maintained? What price must one pay to win? To love?

The Night Circus has not been as well-loved by all as it was by me, and perhaps that is because I listened to, rather than read, the story. Because in fact, it is not about the story. Just as the circus is a mere backdrop against which two illusionists can throw their challenge, the book is a backdrop against which Morgenstern can exercise her power of descriptive language and powerful imagery. It is a means for whisking readers (or listeners) away from one world and into one similar but slightly altered, carried along by a desire to discover this world rather than merely find out what happens in it.

Some of this reviewer disappointment I attribute to that dreaded hype machine, which has made this wonderful little skirmish of a book sound like something it is not. Though there are spells and duels and romance and love triangles and even a semi-evil magician, this is not what makes The Night Circus special. No, instead its power lies in the fact that is a book of setting and description, touched with a small but helpful dose of plotlines, wrapped in striped paper and tied with a flourishing black-and-white bow.

Set aside any expectations but that you will discover something new, and The Night Circus will deliver. Not surprisingly, Dale proves to be the perfect narrator for the novel, bringing Morgenstern's elegantly imagined world to life, coloring characters with unique voices, tones, and attitudes, enveloping listeners in the melodic sounds of whimsy.

And for those of you who have always had an inkling that Harry Potter really could be real, prepare to find yourself waiting for the sudden appearance of black-and-white tents, an elaborate clock, and a faint breeze carrying the hint of caramel on its back.


Thoughts from other bookworms:
Jenny's Books
books i done read
Literary Musings


Thanks to the Anne Arundel County Public Library, as always, for continuing to stock amazing - and current! - audiobooks for my listening pleasure.


The Night Circus | Erin Morgenstern, nar. Jim Dale | Random House Audio | 978-0-307-93890-9 | $45.00 Compact Disc | 11 discs, 13 hrs 39 min | September 2011 | Buy from an independent bookstore near you


  1. I felt the same about this book, I loved it so much that I'm still waiting to be able to review it because I still haven't calmed down enough to put my thoughts into words. I think I read it about a month ago...

    Part of me still wants to believe Harry Potter could be real, and like you that part of me is waiting for the circus to arrive! Brilliant review :-)

  2. I loved it too. I was most definitely enchanted and invited into the book's world in a very similar way to the Harry Potter series. Great review, Kerry!

  3. The fact that you compared this book to how you felt after reading Harry Potter totally hooked me! I didn't read Harry Potter until my 20s- but was instantly a fan. I wanted an owl to come to me then- and knew that if I read the book as a child I would have been waiting for my owl.

    I have wanted to read this book- and your review cemented it for me. I will have to get it- maybe on audio. I love to listen to books- and if you enjoyed this one on audio, then I might as well.


  4. Yes! I just loved the whole feel of the book. To me, it's a mood's all about the feelings it inspired. I know lots of people are complaining about the lack of plot, but I thought it was perfect.

  5. I feel as if I have only seen positive reviews of this book even if some have been a little let down because of the hype (always a risk). It's good to know that the audio works well!

  6. Bex & Andi - Glad to hear I'm not alone in loving it! As I started to flip through other's reviews, I realized how much luke-warm feedback it had gotten. I wondered if maybe I missed something, or was just too drawn in by Jim Dale's narration to notice the flaws...

    Fairday - I hope you like it!

    Softdrink - Yes, it's all about the mood, the setting, the descriptions. Doesn't it make you want to go find an elaborate white gown with black embroidery and just prance around in it?

    Booksnyc - The audio really is fantastically done. Jim Dale = awesome. He also narrated the Harry Potter books... maybe that's why I had HP on the mind when I wrote this review.

  7. I'm so glad you enjoyed this, I have the audio as well, I'm hoping Jim Dale carries me through.

  8. Mmm, especially love those last lines of your review!

    I heard Erin read and I understand what you're talking about regarding description. She's great at making her vision real. I really look forward to this one, and not because of the hype (which often repels me) but because of the atmosphere.


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