“The Night Circus”

Morgenstern, Erin.  The Night Circus.  New York: Doubleday, 2011.  Print.

Borrowed from the Cedar Falls Public Library.

Read between December 15, 2012- January 3, 2013.

Three and a half out of five stars.

night circus

Erin Morgenstern’s debut novel “The Night Circus” is about just that: a circus that shows up unannounced and is open for business between dusk and dawn.  There is also a side story about a competition between two magicians: Celia, the Night Circus’s Illusionist (who in reality possesses the ability to manipulate tangible objects while making her performances appear merely magical) and Marco whose talents lie not only in his capacity to create illusions within a person’s mind that seem genuine and authentic, but also in his role as the circus’s offsite caretaker, (which apparently requires lots of handwritten journals full of spells, charms, hieroglyphs, symbols and the like).  This magician’s duel was arranged by Celia’s father, Hector “Prospero the Enchanter” Bowen, and Marco’s teacher, the mysterious A. H. —*  long before either student fully understands their extraordinary talents.  The Night Circus, or Le Cirque des Rêves, is then created as an elaborate arena for the two to play their game, but without either knowing their opponent, or the premise of the competition, nor its stakes.  But wait, that is simply a side story you say?  Isn’t the contest the entire premise of the book?  That is after all, what was promised on the book jacket…

Yes, and no.  Sure, the game between Celia and Marco comprises the majority of the plot and involves many of the novel’s main characters, but to me it was just, well, meh.  It lacked suspense (non spoiler alert: Celia and Marco fall in love!  They figure out what will happen when one of them is declared the victor!  Sappiness and predictable reactions ensue!), and I never felt fully invested in either character: I couldn’t care less who won or lost, or what would happen to them once the game reached its (anti-climatic) conclusion.  For being the novel’s main protagonists, Celia and Marco were far too underdeveloped, unimaginative, and uninteresting.  Yawn.

What I loved about “The Night Circus” was the imagery and atmosphere that Morgenstern effortlessly constructed.  Her vivid descriptions of the various circus tents and performers were entrancing and seductive.  Also I thoroughly enjoyed the novel’s supporting cast, in particular the German clock maker Herr Thiessen, and Poppet and Widget, the red-headed twins who were born on the circus’s opening night and are able to view a person’s past and see into the future, respectively.

“The Night Circus” is written in a nonlinear format, jumping between times, places, and character perspectives.  Personally, I enjoy books that are constructed in this manner, but I am fully aware that it can be rather annoying or confusing to some readers.    Also, in the case of “The Night Circus”, rather than adding to the overall drama and suspense, the writing format instead impeded the pace of the plot tremendously.  I can certainly understand why some readers would become frustrated with the book’s lack of action and quit reading 100 pages in.  For me, the setting and language kept me interested enough until the pace finally picks up just after the halfway part.  It took me over two weeks to read the first half, and only a few hours to finish the rest.

Overall, I felt that “The Night Circus” was seriously lacking in its depth of characters and the premise of the plot, however I was completely drawn in by the fantastical environment Morgenstern created.

* A. H.— is truly how his name appears throughout the book, ugh. Honestly, what is with the “—“?  Is it because the characters are never privy to his real last name?  Or, does A. H — somehow place an enchantment on everyone to simply forget?  Perhaps it was covered somewhere, but I can’t seem to recall…

(Sidenote: I read this book for my upcoming “Resources for Young Adults” class.  I think the professor’s intention in including this on a YA reading list is to explore crossover titles, because it didn’t scream YA, but neither did it seem strictly “adult”.  Perhaps New Adult, a term that I’ve only recently been made aware?).

“A Game of Thrones: The Graphic Novel, Vol. 1”

A Game of Thrones Graphic Novel Martin, George R R, adapted by Daniel Abraham, illustrated by Tommy Patterson.  A Game of Thrones: The Graphic Novel, Volume One.  New York: Random House, 2012.  Print.

Borrowed from the Cedar Falls Public Library.

Read between November 21-27, 2012.

Four out of five stars.

Daniel Abraham’s adaptation of George R. R. Martin’s A Game of Thrones is beautifully and vividly illustrated by Tommy Patterson throughout the graphic novel’s 240 full color glossy pages. This interpretation of the first title* in the hugely popular fantasy series includes an introduction by Martin where the author expounds his love of the graphic novel (or comic book, as he prefers) format, and his hesitation to attempt a film or other translation of the book.  Martin’s involvement in the project is evident in the graphic novel’s close attention to detail and rigid adherence to the original print format’s storyline.   GoT Two

A combination of full page panels and multiple panel pages, the graphic novel relies heavily on dialogue between the series’ many characters, and less on thought bubbles or descriptor text boxes.  As Martin explains in the preface, part of his skepticism to creating a graphic novel format of A Game of Thrones was how the print format’s heavy reliance on internal monologues would translate.  In this sense, the graphic novel fails to fully capture the inner turmoil being experienced by the book’s characters.  The illustrations help to convey the overall feeling of the book, though at times lack true grittiness and melancholy that is found throughout the print version.

GoT Three

Another criticism of the graphic novel is its portrayal of the book’s female characters, though this is nothing new to the format (read: full bust, small waist, luxurious hair, doe eyes).  For instance, in the original print book Daenerys is a thirteen year old girl, however she is pictured in the graphic novel as a fully developed woman, more often in the nude than clothed.  Catelyn Stark too is shown au naturale, and looks much (much) younger than she is described in the original book.  While there are instances of nudity, including some full frontal shots of female characters, there are not any explicit sex scenes; (more soft-core than hard, to be blunt).  Readers who have watched the HBO series will find that the graphic novel is far less, well, graphic, than the show.

GoT One

A Game of Thrones: The Graphic Novel, Volume One also contains some post-script, behind-the-scenes/the-making-of pages, which will appeal to those who are interested in the creative process and construction of graphic novels.  The graphic novel will also appeal to readers who are interested in the Song of Ice and Fire series, but who may not be ready to commit to the length of the print format.

Overall, readers who are familiar with the series will undoubtedly find discrepancies between the graphic novel and the print format, but having read both I appreciate this interpretation and look forward to the continuance of the series.  I have not, however, read many graphic novels, and hence cannot claim to be an expert in the format.  I will continue to read graphic novels, both stand-alones and series.

*Volume One covers roughly one-third of the original print format.  Volume Two is scheduled for release on June, 2013.  I will definitely be reading the second installment.

“A Game of Thrones”

Martin, George R.R.  A Game of Thrones: A Song of Ice and Fire Book 1.  New York: Bantam Books, 2011.  Print.

Martin, George R.R. A Game of Thrones: A Song of Ice and Fire Book 1.  New York: Random House Audio, 2011. Audio CD.

Audio-book borrowed from the Cedar Falls Public Library.

Print book bought from The Eastern Iowa Airport (CID).

Combined listening and reading throughout the summer of 2012.

Four out of five stars.

Winter is coming, and with it a fight for the Iron Throne that sits in King’s Landing.  At stake are ruling powers over the seven kingdoms of Westeros, and in the running are the Starks, the Lannisters, the Baratheons, and the Targaryens.  In a world where loyalties are bought with gold and people, allies and foes trade places upon whims, and seasons last for lifetimes a storm is brewing, bringing with it a game of thrones full of war and destruction.  George R. R. Martin’s inaugural book in his Song of Ice and Fire series takes readers from Winterfell in the north, home to the Stark family, south to the royal court of the houses Baratheon and Lannister in King’s Landing, east across the Small Sea with the dragon princess Daenerys Targaryen and the Dothraki horse-lords, and to the far north where a monstrous wall guards the land against the impending winter and the wildlings living beyond.  Dark, moody, ominous and suspenseful, this medieval epic is intricately plotted with elaborate subplots and a huge cast of both sinister and honorable characters (many of whom are both).  In typical fantasy series form, A Game of Thrones follows heroic quests pitting good against evil, though that dichotomy is often challenged and its lines are frequently blurred.  Told by many different characters’ perspectives (eight in all) and rife with flashbacks, foreboding, and internal monologues, this book will keep fans of dense fantasy epics entertained, and frustrate those seeking a straightforward, fast-paced series.  The lack of overly fantastical elements, (with the exception of dragons and undead enemies), helps make A Game of Thrones appealing to a wide variety of readers, particularly those who are interested in the intricacies of politics and royal family feuds.  This series is not recommended to those who become easily attached to characters, as no one seems to be safe in Martin’s world.  As Queen Cersei Lannister puts it, “When you play the game of thrones you either win or die.  There is no middle ground.”

I will certainly be continuing the series, of which five of the seven books have been completed.  Fans of the HBO series of the same name will be pleased to know that the show does not deviate far from the series, though it is difficult to include all that happens in the novel’s 700+ pages.