The circus arrives without warning. No announcements precede it. It is simply there, when yesterday it was not. Within the black-and-white striped canvas tents is an utterly unique experience full of breathtaking amazements. It is called Le Cirque des Rêves, and it is only open at night.
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, this is a game in which only one can be left standing, and the circus is but the stage for a remarkable battle of imagination and will. Despite themselves, however, Celia and Marco tumble headfirst into love—a deep, magical love that makes the lights flicker and the room grow warm whenever they so much as brush hands.
True love or not, the game must play out, and the fates of everyone involved, from the cast of extraordinary circus performers to the patrons, hang in the balance, suspended as precariously as the daring acrobats overhead.
Even after the prologue, I did not require any warming up to get into the story. The prose is simple, polished and creates mysterious and engrossing visuals that paint quite intriguing scenes. The story is told through multiple points of view, over the span of a few decades. It sounds as though this may get confusing but the writing is so straightforward and linear, I never lost track of where or when I was throughout. I felt it made the story that much more interesting, as the characters were all so very engaging, even when it seemed as though they were superfluous.
Set primarily in the 1890’s, we meet two magicians… one is the typical on-stage illusionist who is clearly enjoying the money and fame to be had in such an occupation. The other is quite a mystery, we know very little about him. When the performer, Prospero, learns he has a 5 year old daughter with innate abilities, he contacts A.H. (Mr. Mysterious) and the gauntlet is thrown for a challenge between his daughter and an opponent of A.H.’s choosing. A.H. proceeds immediately to an orphanage and procures a little boy, whom he begins training by study. Both children are made to study and train rigorously, never knowing when or with whom, the challenge will be engaged. Already I was anticipating who would come out on top… the child with natural ability or the child who was taught the ability.
This is where Les Cirque des Reves comes in. Through manipulation of one A.H., his apprentice Marco gains employment with the eccentric Mr. Chandresh Lefevbre. Chandresh gathers an odd menagerie of people and together they develop the wonder that is The Circus of Dreams. Celia, Prospero’s daughter, auditions for the role of the illusionist…and once she is hired, the game that Celia and Marco have been waiting for their entire lives, is put into motion.
From the first moment that Marco sees Celia at the audition, we can sense the romance that will one day develop between the two. It is an odd sort of romance however, as odd as the magical duel itself. The way both the romance and the challenge play out is best described as insubstantial, but engaging nevertheless. It was nothing at all what I expected, more of a slow build like the tide… rather than an overwhelming tidal wave. Regardless, there were moments in this story that had my heart clenching and left me feeling very swoony… reminiscent of Jane Austen novels. Have I mentioned that Jane Austen’s characters epitomize romance for me?
“This is quite impressive, Mr. Illusionist,” she says.
“Call me by my name,” he says. He has never heard her speak his name and holding her in his arms he suddenly craves the sound. “Please,” he adds when she hesitates.
“Marco,” she says, her voice low and soft. The sound of his name on her tongue is even more intoxicating than he had imagined, and he leans in to taste it.
Just before his lips reach hers, she turns away.
“Celia,” Marco sighs against her ear, filling her name with all the desire and frustration she feels herself, his breath hot on her neck.
“I’m sorry,” she says. “I … I don’t want to make this any more complicated than it already is.”
He says nothing, keeping his arms around her, but the breeze begins to settle, the waves pounding against the ship become calm.
“I have spent a great deal of my life struggling to keep myself in control,” Celia says, leaning her head against his shoulder. “To know myself inside and out, everything kept in perfect order. I lose that when I’m with you. That frightens me, and—”
“I don’t want you to be frightened,” Marco interrupts.
“It frightens me how much I like it,” Celia finishes, turning her face back to his. “How tempting it is to lose myself in you. To let go. To let you keep me from breaking chandeliers rather than constantly worrying about it, myself.”
Overall, it’s difficult to nail down why I enjoyed the story as much as I did. It is much too ephemeral for me to grasp and explain, it simply must be experienced. What I did love best about this book? It’s one of those reads that reminds me why I love reading in the first place. Every time I opened it up, it was a transcendent experience. There are a number of great reads in my life where I have experienced the extraordinary feeling of losing myself completely in the story. I am thrilled to add this book to that list of which I will read again, for that experience alone.