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I got this book for Christmas from my sister-in-law who understands my love of books AND magic. I also have a not-oft expressed love of sideshows, so this one was the trifecta being a book about magic and circuses. Not circuses in the three ring, sad animals sense, but rather the romantic, 19th-century magician sort. The traveling circus in this story has no travel itenerary and just shows up under cover of darkness, thus adding to its mystery and the curiosity of local townfolk. And the magic is real even though great pains are made for it to appear as expertly executed illusion. The circus is the venue for a secret challenge between two magicians who have been groomed for the exhibition since childhood. They each manipulate the circus and add components to the best of their abilities, but neither quite understands the rules of the game or how a victor will be determined, just that they were magically bound to the competition by their mentors and must participate.
My other favorite part of the circus is the Fortune Teller. Her character, Isobel, is integral to the operation of the circus for several reasons, which I won't go into here so as not the spoil the story for someone else, but I loved the scenes where Isobel did tarot readings for herself and other characters. It is not necessary to know anything about tarot to enjoy the story, but I did find myself Googling what different cards meant and it was clear that the author carefully chose how the cards would fall, so to speak. Also, tarot cards are really beautiful works of art and after reading this book I added the classic Rider-Waite tarot deck to my Amazon.com wish list. I don't really believe in fortunes, but I do think the mythos surrounding fortune telling is fascinating. I would love to have my fortune read, but the only places I ever see that do that are crummy little houses with neon fortune teller signs in the window and that is not the experience I want. Isobel does her readings in a black velvet tent with a beaded doorway and she wears a black veil to add an extra air of mystery. The descriptions of her reading are darks and laden with psychic energy.
"I prefer to remain unenlightened, to better appreciate the dark."
|Amanda Palmer as the Eight Foot Bride via Wikia|
"That man has no shadow."
I talked to my hairstylist about this book as she is an avid fantasy reader and she said she tried to read it, but was unable to finish it. How can this be? She couldn't quite remember why, but said she remembered feeling like nothing was happening. My friend Laura had a helpful perspective about this when she said that people appreciate different things about how a story is told and I think that has to be the case with this one. I will admit that the action is slow, but as the story built I felt a growing sense of curiosity and anticipation that I really enjoyed. The scenes are beautiful and lush and Morgenstern's attention to detail in creating the imagery is impeccible. By the time the two magicians figure out the rules and terms of the challenge, every move they make has dire and far-reaching consequences and this is when the story really takes an exciting turn. What I loved about this story the most is how it made me feel and this is summed up quite eloquently in a passage at the end of the book:
"Someone needs to tell those tales. When the battles are fought and won and lost, when the pirates find their treasure and the dragons eat their foes..., 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."
And, shocker, a movie is currently in development. Will I see it? Yes, I will. Have you read this book? What did you think?