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‘Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell’ (Susannah Clarke, 2004), ‘The Ocean at the End of the Lane’ (Neil Gaiman, 2013) and ‘Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children’ (Ransom Riggs, 2011) provide off-beat romance that keeps us coming back. Each of these books is in the same family as ‘The Night Circus’, a story of a person’s journey from youth to adulthood. Young love is often a part of that journey for everybody, including these extraordinary characters.
Let’s start with ‘Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell’ (Susannah Clarke, 2004)… have you ever wondered what the Napoleonic wars would look like with magic?
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Don’t be intimidated by the size of this book, it’s a brick at 1024 pages. But the plot moves and you don’t even notice. The story takes place in England of 1806 during the Napleonic wars. Like ‘The Night Circus’, it spans a large period of time.
This world has magicians who can create and improve the weapons of war. Mr Norrell takes on Jonathan Strange as his student, but soon finds that Strange likes to ignore the rules in the fight against France.
There are fairies, journeys through mirrors and people coming back from the dead. The plot thickens quickly and the characters are so great you miss them when the book ends – the Gentleman with the Thistle Down Hair is in the top ten lists of literary villains.
‘The Night Circus’ and this book both have apprenticeships for magicians, but ‘Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell’ is more about the adventure and intrigue than the romance.
This was recently produced as a 7-hour series on the BBC. The author also has a website for the book and its short sequel.
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In contrast to ‘The Night Circus’ and ‘Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell’, this is very short – it’s a long short story (I easily read this in one sitting and then read it one more time). Neil Gaiman fills it with his usual lyrical language and fantastic ideas.
The story begins as a man is attending a funeral in his home town and takes some time to drive around to the house where he grew up. When he asks a neighbor if he can go back to the pond (or ocean at the end of the lane) where he used to sit with a childhood crush the memories of a magical struggle come flooding back. He realized that he doesn’t remember things in quite the way they actually happened.
This story is about his love for the girl who is gone but also about how people change the way they remember the past.
Like ‘The Night Circus’ there is love found and love lost. There is a magical world hidden from view of the average person, but it’s there if you know where to look.
NPR did a very good review of the book when it was first released. The Guardian also had an interesting review with some background on the author.
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This book started as a collection of vintage pictures which the author collected and tied together as a story. This a children’s chapter book with a scary story suitable for older kids who don’t mind getting a little spooked by creepy pictures. The pictures are the most amazing part of this book.
Jacob, a teenager who thinks his grandfather is just a little peculiar, learns that he has an interesting past when his strange grandfather is brutally murdered. He starts to follow the clues left behind to an orphanage for “peculiar” children who all have supernatural abilities. Like ‘The Night Circus’ this a Bildungsroman, Jacob is trying to learn his destiny and where he belongs in the world.
With elements of abilities that seem magical, this book exists in that fantastic world of ‘The Night Circus’ Jacob finds a kindred soul in Emma whose background is more then he realizes when he meets her. This is a YA book, so the plot is not as deep or involved as an adult book. But it is a great adventure to read.
Even before that wizard named Harry, people have loved to read about people with amazing abilities who find hidden places.
The world of the fantastic is home to Gaiman, this one is about a man who meets Door. Aptly named she opens doors to the fairy realm and he learns there really is an Earl at Earl’s court. The radio play of this is highly recommended.
This is a slow starter but it’s worth reading just for the characters. If you know the London Underground, you will love the play on the names. And as in ‘The Night Circus’, not all characters are as good or evil as they seem.
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When I read ‘The Night Circus’ I was reminded of Bradbury’s original spooky circus with Mr. Dark and his fantastic way of luring people in.
‘The Night Circus’ owes some debt to this original spooky circus story with a carousel that can grant you any wish if you are willing to pay. This was also produced as a movie by Disney in 1983 and is still a spooky movie as an adult.
While a love story isn’t required, in ‘The Night Circus’ it becomes a major plot changer. Adding a love story usually adds a dimension to any character, sometimes good and sometimes bad.
I am not a fan of romance novels, but if the romance plays a part in the tale, I won’t be sad. Do you find that a love story can sometimes get in the way of a good plot?
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