Set in the late 19thcentury, the story opens with Prospero the Enchanter, aka Hector Bowen, meeting his five year old daughter, Celia for the first time. Celia might be young, but Prospero immediately recognizes her innate magical talent. He soon arranges a meeting with a fellow magician, Mr. A.H., and they make an agreement to “play” a game. Celia will be Hector’s player and Mr. A.H. soon secures his player, Marco, from a local orphanage.
The rules of the game are not clearly stated and remain shrouded in mystery for most of the book, but readers can tell from the childhood educations of Marco and Celia that the two older magicians have different viewpoints on the teaching of magic. One believes it is a structured process—like school—and that it is a matter of study and devotion. The other believes it is a natural thing—something you are born with—and it can be enhanced and developed through life experience and experimentation. Therefore, one student grows up studying the science of magic and one grows up watching and practicing magical skills.
It takes many years, and by this point in the story Marco and Celia have reached adulthood, but eventually Hector and Mr. A.H. feel that their students are ready to begin “playing” the game. A venue is necessary and soon Le Cirque des Rêves, from which the book draws it name, is being planned, constructed and opened for business. Though only the four magicians know of the circus’ true purpose, it takes many of the story’s secondary players to create, construct and run it—creating additional plot twists and storylines that increase the story’s three dimensional feel.
At the time of the circus’ conception, Marco holds an advantage because he know that Celia is his opponent, but it takes Celia years to figure out who she is “playing” against; but upon discovering the truth, a romantic element further complicates the game and the story.
Morgenstern employs a unique writing style for her skillfully crafted debut novel. For starters, the story does not proceed in a linear fashion, meaning the chapters jump forward in time and then backward, making it necessary to note the date at the beginning of chapters. And she devotes entire sections within the book’s pages to describing Le Cirque des Rêves, making it seem like an actual place the readers can visit. All of the design elements combine to make a beautiful and mesmerizing tale that is likely to take ones breath.
Beauty abounds in this story—the writing, the setting, the time period, the characters, the circus ambiance, the ending, plus much more. And it is proven even better through the narration of audiobook reader Jim Dale. Morgenstern has crafted a beguiling tale that is a must read for anyone looking for a book where the plot is not simply laid bare from the onset—one that holds magic, romance, intrigue and mystery.