Self-Published Fantasy Blog-Off #6: Our Round One Winner

Self-Published Fantasy Blog-Off #6

Our Round One Winner

Where Shadows Lie by Allegra Pescatore – SPFBO #6 Semi-Finals Review

Where Shadows Lie

SPFBO #6 Semi-Finals Review

Shadow of a Dead God by Patrick Samphire – SPFBO #6 Semi-Finals Review

Shadow of a Dead God

SPFBO #6 Semi-Finals Review


The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern
Book Name: The Night Circus
Author: Erin Morgenstern
Publisher(s): Anchor Books (US) Vintage (UK)
Formatt: Hardcover / Paperback / Audiobook / eBook
Genre(s): Fantasy
Release Date: July 3, 2012 (US) May 24, 2012 (UK)

The circus arrives without warning. No announcements precede it. It is simply there, when yesterday it was not. The black sign, painted in white letters that hangs upon the gates, reads:

Opens at Nightfall
Closes at Dawn

As the sun disappears beyond the horizon, all over the tents small lights begin to flicker, as though the entirety of the circus is covered in particularly bright fireflies. When the tents are all aglow, sparkling against the night sky, the sign appears.

Le Cirque des Rêves
The Circus of Dreams.
Now the circus is open.
Now you may enter.

Am…Am I awake? I’m not sure if I want to be.

But I suppose if I have to be awake I should review this book for you, I’m just not sure how. Let me start by telling you a little about it, and then I’ll tell you why I have just bought this book for someone I have never met, just so they would read it.

Set in the late 1800s and early 1900s we follow Marco and Celia. Both are pawns, combatants in a game with few rules that they’ve been trained for most of their life. Their arena is the circus itself which is an extremely public playing field, but few of the spectators are aware of what they are really watching. Marco and Celia are bound to each other, years before they ever meet.

The game itself is ethereal and unexplained, vague hints dropped at opportune times by their mentors, but it is a contest of magic. Celia is an illusionist, passing off her magic as mere sleight of hand and misdirection. Marco’s brand of magic is more convoluted and mysterious, and he operates from the shadows.

There is also a supporting cast, each of which adds depth and character to the circus and allows us to appreciate how impactful the game is on the world at large and to the individual patrons.

This debut novel is written in the present tense. I know that this can be off putting for a lot of readers but Morgenstern uses it so deftly and in such a beautiful style that I was lost in her world. It adds so much shape and definition to the story that I hope people give it the chance it deserves. Her descriptions of the various tents and environments are simply staggering. I felt that I knew each corner and every inch in exquisite detail, but in a strange way. Morgenstern picks a particular aspect of the scene and describes that completely and it just envelops you. I feel that if she described a foxhole on a mountain, I’d know how deep the snow was on the highest peak.

Magic is clearly central to the story but it is never truly explained or rationalised. And that is just fine by me. The whole book is so dreamlike and magical that I didn’t want it explained. It would have taken the reader away from the illusion, and Morgenstern keeps you in this web of dreams until the last word.

I suppose I have to write a balanced review as well, don’t I? Well fine. I don’t want to, but I will.

I did have a slight disconnect with Marco. I didn’t know him as well as the other characters though I think this may have been intentional to reflect his mentor. I would have like Celia and Marco to have questioned things a little more as they never truly seemed bothered that their whole lives were being lived to entertain others.

And now I hate myself for that paragraph. Thanks very much.

The story jumps back and forth between different periods of time and points of view, but it’s never confusing and adds to the mysticism that envelops the circus. It helps to display just how deeply it affects people around the world. The different points of view add layer after layer to the richness of the story.

I’m aware I haven’t told you what this book is about, and that is deliberate. I want you to read this book and discover it for yourself, not have it told to you by some anonymous reviewer.

Everyone who loves books as we do has that book, that one book, which they will always recommend to anyone who asks, regardless of genre. The Night Circus has become that book for me. I was so desperate for someone who I have never met (in real life anyway) to read this book that I bought it for them. I’ve never done that before.

Now I’m off to try and go to sleep, I was in the middle of a lovely dream.



  1. Avatar Elfy says:

    Great review, Shep. This is such a magical book. Reading it is an experience. An experience I think everyone should enjoy.

  2. Avatar A.E. Marling says:

    After such a glowing review I can’t help but add a drop of poison to the well. The romance in the novel did not work for me, nor the plot. I wish I could have just read the charming descriptions of the circus and skipped the rest. A cloud jungle gym? A treasury of olfactory adventures? Yes, please. I too would don the red scarf for a circus that’s a bubbling night-time world of caramel and distilled dreams.

  3. Avatar C. says:

    I absolutely agree with everything you have said. This is a must read! If you enjoy novels that build a world, if you are put off because you don’t know the world, this is the book for you. You will touch and smell and taste this world. The characters will make you laugh and cry and feel every emotion in between. Unlike a lot of “you have to read this” books, it truly delivers in that it is simple enough for everyone to read but so rich that the high-brow will be mesmerized.

  4. Avatar Alex Shepherd says:

    Thanks for the comments guys, I just love this book, and I’m glad others do to.
    AE, what was it about the romance that didn’t grab you? I have to say it’s one of the few romance heavy novels that I have actually enjoyed.

Leave a Comment