5 out of 5 stars
I've seen lots of "love it or hate it" reviews for this book, so I was kind of hesitant to start it. I'm so glad I finally did though. I am absolutely in the "love it" group. Before we get into my reasons though, let's start with the incredibly misleading Goodreads summary, because I think that is a big problem for most people who pick this book up.
But behind the scenes, a fierce competition is underway: a duel between two young magicians, Celia and Marco, who have been trained since childhood expressly for this purpose by their mercurial instructors. Unbeknownst to them both, this is a game in which only one can be left standing. Despite the high stakes, Celia and Marco soon tumble headfirst into love, setting off a domino effect of dangerous consequences, and leaving the lives of everyone, from the performers to the patrons, hanging in the balance.
This book is not about the "fierce competition" or the "high stakes". The story spans about 30 years, set in the late 1800s, so this is obviously not a fast-paced book. There's no big climactic battle between the two magicians. The magicians aren't even the main character, in my opinion, and aren't truly fleshed out. If it's possible for an inanimate object to be a main character (and I do believe it is) then I would have to say that would be the circus itself in this story. It may not breathe or walk on its own, but it is definitely a living being. And that is what makes this story so special. The magical wonder of a circus that "arrives without warning" and is open from sundown to sunup and is designed in all black & white. "Le cirque des rêves", the circus of dreams, where anything can happen: from a maze of clouds to an ice garden to a tree of candle wishes. The imagery is just beautiful, so much that I had to create a Pinterest board just for it (may be spoilers). And since I don't have much more to say in this actual review, I'm going to share some of the pretties with you here! :)
First up, the official book trailer...although I much prefer this fanmade one by Zozomagod. That one may have some spoilers, so be warned if you haven't read it yet.
This perfectly illustrates the relationship between the two main characters and the magic of their meeting. "The Illusionist & The Assistant" by Smileys-4-Eva on DeviantART.
Poppet & Widget, two of my favorite characters. I believe this is by The-More-I-Arty on Tumblr, but if I am mistaken, please let me know! I also adore this one by *Pinkie-Perfect on DeviantART, but only click it if you have read the book already! (Minor details spoiled)
And I'm going to stop there, but leave you with this quote that I think sums up the book and my experience with it perfectly:
Someone needs to tell those tales. When the battles are fought and won and lost, when the pirates find their treasures and the dragons eat their foes for breakfast with a nice cup of Lapsang souchong, someone needs to tell their bits of overlapping narrative. There's magic in that. 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. You may tell a tale that takes up residence in someone's soul, becomes their blood and self and purpose. That tale will move them and drive them and who knows what they might do because of it, because of your words. That is your role, your gift. [...] Do not forget that... there are many kinds of magic, after all.