book review: the night circus

Title: The Night Circus

Author: Erin Morgenstern

Genre:  Fiction, Fantasy, Magical Realism

Publishing Date: 2011

The Night Circus, Erin Morgenstern
The Night Circus,
Erin Morgenstern

REVIEW

Synopsis: Le Cirque Des Revs is a traveling attraction open only at night. It arrives without warning. It leaves without notice. But within its black and white striped tents is a world that blends the boundaries between reality and imagination. And two young magicians—Celia and Marco—are bound to the circus as dueling competitors in a high-stakes game of which neither understands the rules or more importantly, the consequences.

Opinion: 

Remember when you were a young kid and you read a book that transported you somewhere surreal, somewhere wonderful, somewhere magical? That’s how I felt when reading this book. Its pages hold ideas and settings that are more vivid and unique and fantastic than those of my own dreams. It made me long to visit Le Cirque Des Revs—or at least hope that someone adapts this dreamlike story into a film.

After a slow start (first 50 or so pages), this book picks up pace as you begin to see how the different characters are woven together with the night circus as the unifying thread. And by the time you’re grasping the overarching plot—two dueling magicians are fighting unknowingly in a competition to the death—it’s a full-blown magical, star-crossed love roller coaster ride.

I enjoyed the plot. I enjoyed the characters. I enjoyed the writing. But mostly, I enjoyed this book for its imaginative scenes within the circus walls: the ice garden, the merry-go-round, the cloud room, the grandfather clock. Morgenstern portrays magic and illusion in such a unique, intimate way that you can’t help but believe it must be real.

Overall: 4 out of 5

Who Should Read This Book: Adults who love logic-defying, limitless, magical stories. Those who are looking for a 19th Century romance novel that reads like a fantasy-mystery-thriller. Anyone who wants to be transported to a literary world of creative brilliance that’s so beautiful, you’ll want to savor every last word.

book review: queen of the dark things

Title: Queen of the Dark Things

Author: C. Robert Cargill

Genre: Fiction, Fantasy

Publishing date: 2014

cover art for Queen of the Dark Things, a novel
Queen of the Dark Things, C. Robert Cargill

REVIEW

Favorite Quote:

If it stops hurting, it isn’t really love. (pg. 168)

Synopsis: A sequel to Dreams and Shadows, Queen of the Dark Things weaves together the stories of a handful of supernatural beings including Colby the wizard, the anti-hero who survived the horrors of Cargill’s first novel. In addition to Colby and his djinn (genie) named Yashar, we’re introduced to a new cast of characters in Queen of the Dark Things–dreamwalkers, Clever Men, gods, demons, shadows, monsters, and more–whose lives are woven together–for better or worse–by destiny itself. In this brooding fantasy thriller, Colby faces even tougher decisions with even graver consequences in an effort to save himself and his few remaining friends.

Opinion: Although book two did not have as many breathtaking sentences and pause-let-me-read-that-again moments, it was a heart-pumping fantasy page turner, and I loved every moment of it. Cargill pushes the imagination into far darker places than you ever thought possible, leaving you in awe of the creativity and evil he’s able to dream up.

Similar to Dreams and Shadows, Queen of the Dark Things touches on some critical themes: vengeance, destiny, choice, and morality. He makes you question what choices are really good ones, how much control we have over our own fate, what makes us powerful, and what does it mean to do something bad for the right reasons.

His action builds effortlessly, making these books a breeze and a pleasure to read. I could hardly put it down and was already aching for more when it was over. I hope there’s a third still to come in this well-plotted, well-executed series.

Overall: 4 out of 5

Who Should Read This Book: Anyone who enjoyed Dream and Shadows. Read that. Then read this. They’re both worth it.

book review: dreams and shadows

Title: Dreams and Shadows

Author: C. Robert Cargill

Genre: Fiction, Fantasy

Publishing date: 2013

Dreams and shadows novel cover image
Dreams and Shadows, C. Robert Cargill

REVIEW

Favorite quotes:

Monsters are real. Very real. But they’re not just creatures. They’re people, they’re nightmares. . . They are the things that we harbor within ourselves. . . there is not a monster dreamt that hasn’t walked once within the soul of a man. (pg 49)

Women were tricky that way. They wanted to be thought of as beautiful, but they only wanted you if you thought they were almost beautiful. (pg 190)

God doesn’t hide himself away because he wants each person to come to him with blind faith; he hides himself away because if people knew the truth, they wouldn’t want to believe in him at all. (pg 211)

Nothing is permanent, but everything is never-ending. (pg 214)

Ignorance is the only one truly unstoppable force in this world. (pg 318)

Yes, people are sheep. Big deal. You need to stop trying to educate the sheep and instead just steer the herd. (pg 318)

The Devil catches every crumb that spills off Heaven’s plate. (pg 354)

The total of our lives won’t be the things we did to survive, but the things we did to change the world. (pg 355)

Synopsis: Two boys from Austin, TX–Ewan and Colby–both end up in up in the Limestone Kingdom, a magical realm filled with fairies, demons, and all things supernatural. Ewan was stolen by a fairy as a baby. Colby stumbled upon the Limestone Kingdom with the help of a djinn (genie). After narrowly escaping death within the walls of the Limestone Kingdom, Ewan and Colby return to Austin. The novel follows the boys years later as they both struggle to deal with the consequences of their actions as children and are forced to fight the ultimate battle against the Kingdom’s most sinister creatures in search of long-overdue revenge.

Opinion: 

This book is not for the faint of heart.

I am not a huge fantasy reader. In fact, this novel is probably my first true fantasy novel. Despite seeing mixed reviews on the book, something drew me to it. And I’m glad it did. I found it fascinating, start to finish.

It’s dark, gritty, sinister, relentless, and horribly pessimistic. It reminded me of Game of Thrones in that any character at any time is at risk of being axed. Even the ones you love. Even the ones you’re rooting for.

The characters are all perfectly flawed, making them feel honest and believable. Cursed genies. Drunken angels. Killer mermaids. Fairies who feed on others’ suffering. A young boy who asks for the wrong wish (twice). And a whole world of supernatural beings who will sacrifice their own young just to survive. The humans are just as flawed as the fantasy creatures. The villains, just as flawed as the anti-heroes.

I found the ideas fresh, imaginative, and unexpected. I loved exploring fairies and genies and trolls and angels and mermaids from a new, exquisitely dark perspective.

The quick-paced plot was packed with relevant, tense events all leading up to a superb climatic final battle. It’s a story line worthy of the big screen; I hope I have the chance to see it there one day.

In addition to an excellent plot, the strong writing was at times poetic and often profound. Despite the unreal world it creates, Dreams and Shadows touches on some very real themes: fate, vengeance, internal demons, and legacies.

Although I’m not big on books in a series, Cargill’s next novel, Queen of Dark Things, features at least one of the characters who manages to survive the horrific events of Dreams and Shadows. And I may just have to read it too.

Overall: 4 out of 5

Who should read this book: Fantasy book lovers. And not teenie-bopper vampire fantasies, either. But dark, dramatic, depressing fantasy lovers. Anyone who loves epic battles and underdogs and imaginative worlds that are even bleaker than our own.

Those looking for a happy ending need not apply.