In this fanciful and breathtaking novel, two young people are drawn into a dangerous game by their caretakers. Both have been trained in the arts of real magic, not illusory magic, and have been brought up to fight a magical duel.

Marco is an orphan and Celia has a cruel, misguided father. Their challenge will take place at the traveling circus which shows up unannounced at various cities throughout the world. 

The Night circus, which has no clowns and elephants, focuses on the unusual and the sensual. Visitors enter tents to see acrobatics, an ice garden, smell concoctions, or have their fortunes told.

Celia is the circus’s illusionist who uses magical arts to impress her audience. 

Though the Marco and Celia realize they are opponents, neither know when or how the challenge will take place. 

Marco, who is based in London, uses the magical bonfire at the circus to refuel his energy. The bonfire also has protective properties which keeps the circus performers from aging.

Though it was not a pact they entered willing, Celia and Marco have ignored the challenge’s effects on others. 

Lanie makes this clear to Celia,

“I am tired of everyone keeping their secrets so well that they get other people killed. We are all involved in your game, and it seems we are not as easily repaired as teacups.”

The two masterminds, Hector and Alexander, have more to answer for. Fittingly, in the end, Alexander seems to realize the harm his game has caused:    

“It is one thing to put two competitors alone in a ring and wait for one to hit the ground. It is another to see how they fare when there are other factors in the ring along with them. When there are repercussions with every action taken.”

 The love story and denouement of this novel are particularly impressive. The conclusion is bittersweet but satisfying. 

Marco and Celia find a way to thwart the game. Uncertain and lost, Bailey finds a mission. Widget, who perhaps possesses the most powerful magic of all, wins the circus with his story telling abilities. 

Morgenstern began The Night Circus in 2003 during NaNoWriMo challenge, an annual online writing challenge in which authors try to complete 50,000 words in November.