When the child Celia Bowen is delivered to her father, the famous magician Prospero (Hector Bowen), a challenge is taken up. Prospero believes that magical talent is inborn. Celia is an example with her uncanny ability to alter the environment around her, even to heal the wounds in her fingers, which her father slices as a way of having her practice. Prospero’s rival, Alexander H. (the man in the gray suit) believes that anyone can learn incredible magic. The two have been fighting over magic for years. When Alexander picks Marco Alisdair, an orphan, as his student, the game is on. Which of the two will grow up to be the better magician?
The playing field for the challenge is the black and white Night Circus—Le Cirque des Rêves. Celia and Marco control it, Celia as an illusionist inside the circus, Marco from London, as the assistant to the proprietor. Each adds mysterious tents full of wonders—paper animals suspending in midair that move and breathe, indoor ice sculptures with no means of refrigeration, a wishing tree with lighted candles that never go out. And, of course, there is the blindingly white bonfire. Lit at midnight on the first night of the circus, at the same time that the lion tamer’s twins were born, its supernatural powers hold the circus together.
In fact, the magic of the circus is awe-inspiring, and, although the circus always comes and goes unannounced, fans follow it, even to Europe. Everyone in the circus is caught in the magic; no one, except the twins, ages.
This would be the perfect dream if there weren’t a sinister element to the contest, one that neither Celia nor Marco knew of as they were brought up, unknown to one another, to compete. This is a game to the death. When Marco and Celia do meet, they fall in love. The flights of fancy they create at the circus are for one another. But how do they get out of the challenge alive?
The Night Circus moves back and forth in time between 1873 and 1903. I think this might be confusing to some teen readers, but my recommendation is just to lose yourself in the magic and not worry about the year. It will all come together nicely at the end. Meanwhile, the descriptions of the circus—the sights, the sounds, the smells of caramel and chocolate—is a feast for the senses.
Fans of paranormal books, of romance, adventure, and magic will love this book. Although it’s a much different story than Harry Potter, I think Potter fans will thrill to this one. A lovely adult book for teen readers looking for a textured read.