The basic premise is really basic: our protagonists are pawns in a competition of two magicians of differing styles and techniques. A new method vs. old method theme. Very familiar and not at all unique or distinctive, but what was the last original idea?
A few brief points about what I felt Morgenstern got right: Falling in love.
The whirlwind, the unreasonableness, the beauty of it. Place as character.
Like the characters Bailey and Frederick, the readers can easily insert the circus in as protagonist. The haunting beauty of the sublime surroundings are indeed enchanting. Some may argue that she uses too flowery of language or too much purple prose, but it's an intense hold on all of the senses to transport you so thoroughly to the circus. Fandom.
The psychology of fanaticism and fanatical beliefs. Change out the circus venue and change the magic to religion/music/politics/parenting/whatever and you'd have an entirely different story but one that beats in the same rhythm.
What I loved about it: The hopscotch narrating
from different narrators, different points of view and voices, different writing methods, non-chronological events Freiderick Thiessen
(what an endearing man) so many allusions
(gorgeous gorgeous allusions to history to literature to wonder). mood.
This is what I think I was hoping for from The Graveyard Book. Something intriguing and mystifying but not sinister. Something that hints at darkness but is wholesome.
Yet sometimes the special effects and beautiful poetic living language I felt was a manipulation (an illusion just as the characters were using) to distract from the one dimensional characters caught in a plot of urgent yet vague mystifying confusion. It was similar to watching the series Lost play out. It was intense and so many questions and clues to wade through and in the end, it seems the writers wrote themselves into a corner trying to justify why nothing made sense. I felt that the ending was rushed with some loose ends that Morgenstern wrapped into a decadent bow.
Overall its a fabulous book, but I don't feel at ease or a sense of conclusion. For a character to spend decades preparing for battle and to fool and put on illusions and facades, I don't think I ever felt like they let their guard down and thus I never felt a genuine connection with them. I never knew if I was to choose someone to root for in the competition.
But oh what gorgeous language! I will be very excited to read another novel if Morgenstern writes another. I'm secretly (well not-so-secretly now) hoping she might collaborate to create a graphic novel because her prose is full of so much imagery.