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The Night Circus

The Night Circus - Wedding cakes are typically the prettiest cakes, but they are almost never the tastiest cakes. I am not a cake expert (can I be one though? Is that a thing I can be?), but it seems to me that the tools necessary to make a cake exceptionally pretty -- a vat of fondant, to start -- also contribute to the cake not tasting all that good (unless you somehow really like fondant, which is incorrect).Don't misunderstand me, I have no issue with cake. The right decorations, the right frosting (buttercream, preferably chocolate), the right consistency (moist, but not crumbly), the right layering (chocolate mousse) -- it is a perfect example of a food that does one thing, but does it very well. And that's fine.But a gorgeous wedding cake, covered in fondant and appliques, is only gorgeous until you cut into it, take a bit, and realize, hmmm. It's pretty and all, but you could do with a bit less artifice and a bit more of the good stuff. The cake part.The Night Circus is a wedding cake with fondant that goes nearly all the way down. It is an exceptionally pretty cake -- captivating, intensely visual, ornate and delicately constructed, with unruly swirls of back and white and surprising splashes of vivid red. But what is underneath? Oh, there it is... a little bit of cake, way down at the bottom. It's pretty good, too. Light, airy, a hint of chocolate and smoke. But all that sculpted icing has lodged in your throat, and it's kind of hard to swallow.Erin Morgenstern writes beautifully. This is a book about dueling magicians and bewitching enchantments, set in the Victorian age circus, so you can probably imagine what you're going to read, but she decorates her world remarkably well, creating magical attractions that are lightly sketched, allowing them to grow in your imagination (I want to play in the vertical cloud maze, and climb to the top and jump into a sea of wispy fluff).But good lord, just re-read that paragraph. Magicians, Victorian circus, cloud maze, sea of fluff? Eye roll? I've read a few circus books, and I should probably get it into my head that they are almost never for me, because too much of this stuff can get to be a bit much. "Insufferably twee," I might have commented. Did I mention is is also a star-cross'd romance? With achingly, dippily sincere lovers?I mean, whatever, that's fine. I can handle romance, I can handle reading long, elegant passages about the sets of various Tim Burton films. Just give me a good story.But I don't think this book has a very good story. It is all setting, tone, establishing a mood. The story just kind of sits there, down at the bottom, under all that decoration. It isn't that interesting, and certainly not an entirely stable foundation. But maybe if it was jazzed up a bit? Put some filler in there -- a framing device, a needlessly fractured timeline. Does that make it taste better? Not really. The additional flavors are nice enough. They keep you eating reading, anyway (I can't remember if I am still talking about cake).Now for a paragraph that I won't be able to shoehorn into the strained theme of this review, but it needs to be said nonetheless: I don't like it when books about magic put zero parameters on what magic can do, or how it is. The magic in this book is unrestrained and excessive and after a while, very boring to read about. It powers the attractions at the Circus of Dreams, but with no restraints, the attractions can be, literally, anything. So why was I yawning halfway through the act? This book has received intense advance hype, and it will probably be a huge seller. Probably. But I'm not sure. If I wanted to further stretch my metaphor I would point out that you buy cakes at Jewel all the time but you only buy a wedding cake once. --Addendum to Danielle Trussoni: I found your blurb on the back of this book to be as uninspiring as your debut novel. Do you really want to be the blurb-whore who speaks of a book that is explicitly about magic with phrases like "so magical, there is no escaping its spell"? Also, "enchanting"? Also, "If you read just one novel this year, this is it"? Really? As long as it isn't your book, I guess.