[E]ven if you're not ready for clown shoes, you'll enjoy escaping into Erin Morgenstern's enchanting first novel…more than merely re-creating the Greatest Show on Earth, Morgenstern has spun an extravaganza that makes P.T. Barnum look smaller than Tom Thumb.... Morgenstern manages to conjure up a love story for adults that feels luxuriously romantic.
Ron Charles - Washington Post
[A] dark and extravagantly imagined debut.... The plot follows the separate and then intertwining lives of Celia and Marco, both forced to spend their lives pitting their unusual talents against each other in a cruel competition. But their world is Morgenstern's most vivid creation, a fantastical circus featuring illusionists whose powers transcend mere sleight of hand; like those performers, the author entices her audience to suspend disbelief and rewards its members with captivating pleasure.
Debut author Morgenstern doesn't miss a beat in this smashing tale of greed, fate, and love set in a turn of the 20th-century circus. Celia is a five-year-old with untrained psychokinetic powers when she is unceremoniously dumped on her unsuspecting father, Hector Bowen, better known as Le Cirque des Reves' Prospero the Entertainer. Hector immediately hatches a sinister scheme for Celia: pit her against a rival's young magician in an epic battle of magic that will, by design, result in the death of one of the players, though neither Celia nor her adversary, Marco, is informed of the inevitable outcome. What neither Hector nor his rival count on is that Celia and Marco will eventually fall in love. Their mentors—Marco's mentor, Alexander, plucked him from the London streets due to his psychic abilities—attempt to intervene with little success as Celia and Marco barrel toward an unexpected and oddly fitting conclusion. Supporting characters—such as Bailey, a farm boy who befriends a set of twins born into the circus who will drastically influence his future; Isobel, a circus employee and onetime girlfriend of Marco's; and theatrical producer Chandresh Christophe Lefevre—are perfectly realized and live easily in a giant, magical story destined for bestsellerdom. This is an electric debut on par with Special Topics in Calamity Physics.
To enter the black-and-white-striped tents of Le Cirque des Reves is to enter a world where objects really do turn into birds and people really do disappear. Even though visitors believe the performances are all illusion, they are obsessively drawn to this extraordinary night circus. Those who run and perform in the circus are its lifeblood. Marco Alisdair runs the operation from London as assistant to the eccentric proprietor. Celia Bowen holds it all together from her role as illusionist. As magicians, Marco and Celia are bound to each other in a deadly competition of powers, creating ever more fantastical venues for circus goers to marvel at. But falling in love was never part of the game, and the players struggle to extricate themselves from this contest while keeping the circus afloat. Verdict: Debut novelist Morgenstern has written a 19th-century flight of fancy that is, nevertheless, completely believable. The smells, textures, sounds, and sights are almost palpable. A literary Mr. Toad's Wild Ride, this read is completely magical. —Joy Humphrey, Pepperdine Univ. Law Lib., Malibu, CA
Self-assured, entertaining debut novel that blends genres and crosses continents in quest of magic.... Generous in its vision and fun to read. Likely to be a big book—and, soon, a big movie, with all the franchise trimmings.
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