A highly engaging and slightly confusing book that follows a circus in which two magicians are involved in a competition neither really understands. This has to be one of my favourite books this year. It's been a while since I've read a new fantasy book (part of a series or otherwise) that has kicked in my obsessive-reader streak. I just could not pull myself away.
First off, the circus is amazing. I've only been to a few circuses in my life, but they don't even compare to the Le Cirque des Rêves (Circus of Dreams) and I wonder if I've ever enjoy a circus after being transported to this one. Reading about it is immersive in a way I can't describe. I could smell the caramel, see every performance and every performer, feel the energy of the crowd. I can't remember being so transported by a book, and for that alone I would give it five stars. Interspersed with the actual plot, we are told about the experiences in various tents and the things we see. It helps to break from the plot and make the character transitions seem smoother.
But then we have the actual story. As I said, it two magicians in a kind-of contest (all is revealed later on in the book) and the circus is the venue for this. So everything in the circus is the spawn of their imagination, their dreams. Every tent, in its own way, implies something about the maker, hints at the plot and present feelings. I'm reading into it, I admit, but it seems all so cleverly interwoven, much like the circus itself.
Yet I think the characters are what make it interesting. We have our magicians, Marco and Celia. They are designed to opposites (that's why they were chosen as the competitors) so they match, even compliment, each other perfectly. It means we get two distinct voices and views, and two ways of seeing the same world. And their magic is wrought in different ways. Hers physical, his with charms and symbols; he is more considering, she more impulsive. It amazing. We also have Bailey, who story we jump into, as well as characters like Mr. Barris, Poppet and Widget, Tsukiko, Chandress, Prospero (Hector), Mr. Alexander, The Burgess Sisters, Friedrick Thiessen, Isobel and others I've likely forgotten. They make the book amazing, and each one is distinct in my mind and has their own story. I can't express how pleasant it is to read so many connected characters but not once become confused.
The Circus itself becomes almost a character too. Almost. I'm always aware it's a circus, but it has personality and is so well loved and talked about as though alive that one cannot help but consider it a character also.
Their is also romance in the book. It becomes integral, but the book does not become a complete romance, which I appreciated. It was fantasy and stuck to that like glue to paper. Certain events pre-empted this, and I think anyone could have guessed this would happen a quarter of the way into the book when Marco first sees Celia. And guess what? No love triangles! Huzzah! (You could argue otherwise, but I disagree. I never believed that romance.) It was much more interesting to see them interacting with each other and facing problems in their own relationship.
It's also set in the late 1800s, early 1900s. On one hand this was great for the lack of technology, the clothes, the atmosphere, and the people themselves. It's also handy since it meant it wasn't based at a time when there were huge events happening in history. There were events, but none so far reaching they could affect the story or have the characters being split. This story isn't about conflict, I feel. It seems odd since it's a competition, but I think it was more about working together than against each other.
I'm going to say something bad because I have to, but this didn't really bother me: I found some of the explanations hard to follow. Sometimes they were just concerning magic and its mechanics, but I expected to understand more than I did. I had to just move past it, but I didn't expect to understand. Part of the magic (pardon the pun) of this book was that we didn't know everything. The mystery was alluring, and the discovery sweeter for it; regardless of the comprehension. That's why I wasn't bothered by the mystery around the contest. This books hinges on not knowing anything, and we are made to get used to this idea very early on.
The novel is a treasure of a book and of a story. Never would I dare part with it. And it's wondrous element is well suited to the Christmas season. Buy this for yourself for Christmas. By it for anyone who loves fantasy, or someone who's faith in romance in a book is fading. My adoration for this book cannot be put into words; I am a rêveur through-and-through. Buy it, love it, but don't thank me.
I think this has earned the highly acclaimed spot as My Favourite Book of the Year.
After publishing/writing this, I've found a site for people interested in the books to kind of experience and live the books again. It's okay, but slow-going; many people would hate it. Link.