This book is one of the few that works better as an audiobook because it's got lovely flowing sentences that sound great when spoken aloud, and there are all these fantastical sensory details that suck you right into the dreamy magical world of the night circus. The downside, however, is a book that's a chore to read on your own, as I found out (more below the spoilers). I started out reading and I really enjoyed the first few chapters, but then the story dragged on for too long and I lost interest somewhere in the middle and ended up finishing it via Jim Dale on audio. He's amazing. Anyone who's interested in this book should try it on audio first.
Now for the hard part. I'll try easing into it.
Once in a while you come across a book that you may or may not enjoy, but the experience of reading it teaches you something new about yourself. This book taught me that the older I get, the less patience I have for flowery prose and meandering story arcs (that take too long to lead nowhere...interesting). I think I outgrew purple prose when I realized, too often, they're used as a diversion, rather than a device, to pan the reader's attention away from a weak story or revelation or, in this case,(show spoiler)
I don't mean that in a terribly negative way. Nice prose is great. Nice prose is necessary (sometimes). Nice prose is always welcomed...as long as it doesn't take up the whole story and/or isn't used as a substitute for plot or character development (because that's a cop out and I'd want my time, effort, and money back).
This is my round-about way of saying I didn't like this book as much as I could have, if that makes any sense. I certainly don't hate it. I just hate feeling cheated out of a potentially great story.
On the other hand, I feel as though I should like this book more because it's got all the qualifications of a book I would like. And that's why, even though I find the execution of the story unsatisfying, I still can't critique it directly...because it's a lovely book. Also, if you look at its background, you'd be impressed that it started as a nanowrimo draft. From that to what it is now--what it has achieved now--is impressive. Extra credits for that, I suppose?
It's a nice book though. Great as an autumn read.
Morgentern does have a way with language and a way to make you experience the story, rather than just reading it. Her descriptions of tactile sensations are just lovely. Everything is just lovely actually, from the writing to the world of the night circus to the mystery of magic to the effervescent chill in the air.
Unfortunately, that's my problem with it, that everything is too lovely and serves no other purpose than just being lovely. Things started to become grating when I realized the story was going nowhere due to a lack of further plot and character development. Even the intrigue of slight-of-hand and magic established earlier in the story lost their novelty.
This story could have been much more than what it is. It could have been much more than just lovely. It had a solid foundation to support a much richer, deeper, darker fantasy in the style of Neil Gaiman or Alice Hoffman.
Which got me thinking. Maybe it would have been better as a short story.