The Night Circus: Book Review

My sister recommended this novel to me. She read it a couple of months ago, and since then, she’s spoken of it in such glowing terms that my curiosity has mounted gradually. “The cover is gorgeous,” she said one day. “My dream would be to design the costumes for the movie adaptation,” she said another day.

This month, I finally decided to read it.

First things first: content advisory. Under “questionable” material, this book has:

  • one f-word that didn’t need to be there (in my opinion)
  • one fairly vague sex scene

My verdict? Definitely not for anyone under 13. I recommend it for ages 16+.

I form my opinions about books based on 4 things: plot, characters, language and tone, and theme. Here’s what I thought about The Night Circus:


From the publisher: “The circus arrives without warning. No announcements precede it. It is simply there, when yesterday it was not. Within the black-and-white striped canvas tents is an utterly unique experience full of breathtaking amazements. It is called Le Cirque des Rêves, and it is only open at night.”

I knew nothing about The Night Circus before I started reading it, and frankly, I think it was more fun that way. There’s something magical about this story, something mysterious and otherworldly about the world the author creates. Not knowing what was coming next was absolutely delightful.

This plot is complex and unpredictable, something I love to see in the books I read. At first, the book seemed to ramble a little bit, but all the different strands started to come together a little at a time. By the end, every piece of the plot that had seemed disconnected from the rest of the story was integrated into a spectacular climax.


I don’t like flat characters. I want the people I read about to feel real, with strengths and flaws and quirks and personality. Their motivations need to be complex because real people are complex. On the character front, this novel delivered.

The characters were unique, and most of them were not clearly “good” or “bad”: like real people, they were more complicated than that. While the main characters were likable, they weren’t perfect. In short, they were believable.

Language & Tone

Just telling a story isn’t enough for me: I want language that makes the book come alive for me, language that makes me think about things differently, language that succeeds in setting the tone for the entire novel. The Night Circus, in my opinion, used language well.

The tone of the novel was delightful, magical, and mysterious. I felt like I was in the circus, seeing things through the characters’ eyes, feeling their emotions. Several times, the words the author chose to use made me stop and think, often because she had put words to something I’ve experienced but never tried to explain.

“So that’s how you describe that emotion,” I thought before returning to the book.


Technically speaking, a theme is the topic a work of literature addresses. It’s the “thing that matters” which the book or poem or play is trying to draw your attention to. I consider a novel to have a theme if the entire book, taken as a whole, seems to direct my focus to a particular topic or idea.

At first, I didn’t think The Night Circus had a theme. It was a wonderful story, well-written and engaging, but I couldn’t identify a central topic it focused on. I was ready to categorize it as “great story, no theme.” But when I mentioned this assessment to my sister she was astonished. “Of course there’s a theme,” she told me.

Then we argued about discussed the book…for an hour.

Now, when a book inspires that much passionate discussion, it’s usually a sign that there’s more going on in the novel than just the story. To resolve our difference of opinion, my sister and I looked up the final pages of the book. Two characters are discussing stories, and one of them says:

“It’s in the listener, and for each and every ear it will be different, and it will affect them in ways they can never predict. From the mundane to the profound.”

What I get out of the story isn’t the same as what my sister gets out of it. The thing that impacts me might be nothing like the thing that impacts her. The point of a story, the book suggests, is the effect it has on you as an individual.

So: is there a theme? Or isn’t there? Or, perhaps, is the wondering and questioning the important thing after all?


Read it. It’s good. It’s fun. And I really want to discuss it with you.

If you read The Night Circus, let me know what you think in the comments!

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