Conceived in 1885 and opened on the night of October 13th 1886, The Night Circus is a spectacle which is enjoyed by children and adults alike. The circus is remarkable in two ways: the first is suggested by its title; the circus is only open during the evening and it closes at dawn. The other detail that makes the circus so unique is its colour scheme - from the tents to the performers (as well as the ground itself), the entire circus is black and white.
However, the circus also serves an alternate purpose - it is the grounds for a competition between two young magicians who showcase their skills within the circus itself by creating spectacular tents. In fact, they become involved with the circus to the point where it literally cannot run without their support.
The circus contains a large number of different attractions and rides, the following are mentioned or described specifically in the novel.
- The Ticket Booth: Mundane and human-staffed. The only entrance beyond it is to the tunnel.
- The Tunnel: Directly beyond the ticket booth and the only public entrance to the circle. A black and white, twisting tunnel with black velvet curtains either end. Described as lengthy and magic may have been used to make each visitor appear alone in the tunnel.
- The Central Cauldron: Contains a white, constantly burning fire. This is also the source of the spell that binds Celia and Marco to the circus.
- The Menagerie: Briefly mentioned. There may also be a display featuring "big cats" (ie, tigers, lions, etc). Not described as magical, and these do exist. In FBG, the Big Cat show features the cats prowling around next to the audence, allowing the audience to pet them and interacting with them directly.
- The Carousel: Constructed entirely indoors and behaves as a sequence ride. Part-magical; a ride with similar effects could probably exist, but not in the 19th century and not with all the details described. Detailed description does not appear in the original book but is added in the paperback and on Morgenstein's web site.
- The Hanged Man: An acrobatic display where visitors watch from below. Includes silks, globes containing aerialists, chairs used as trapezes, and a bungee jumping compere.
- The Illusionist: Celia's performance, actually not illusory but entirely magical. Performance repeats every 15 minutes and visitors may be trapped in the tent during each one.
- The Wishing Tree: A tree where patrons can write wishes on candles, light them from previous candles, and leave them. Described as magical but not clear what the magical element is.
- The Fortune Teller: Isobel's performance. Isobel is a magician, but may or may not use magic when divining.
- The Labyrinth: A magical series of chambers each with a different experience. It is Marco and Celia's collaborative work.
- The Ice Garden: A magical interior garden, larger than it seems, and made entirely from ice. It is Marco's work and Celia's favourite attraction.
- The Stargazer: A slow roller-coaster styled ride at an upward angle, allowing visitors to look up at the stars. One of the few items in the circus explicitly described as purely mundane.
- The Cloud Maze: A maze constructed from cloudlike platforms where the aim is to reach the top. Rather than "getting lost" visitors can exit the maze at any point by jumping out of the side.
- The Scented Jars: A room of jars, each containing a scent invoking memories of past idyllic scenes. Widget's work; the jars hold actual memories. FBG gives this the name The Pavilion of Memories.
- The Drawing Room: A tent surrounded by blackboards and with buckets of chalk provided for guests to draw. In FBG, the drawings come to life after people have drawn them.
- Creatures of Mist and Paper: An exhibit of animated paper creatures inside a misty tent.
- The Pool of Tears: A silent pool of water surrounded by black stones, which visitors can throw into the pool.
- The Hall of Mirrors: Contains small individual mirrors which are not full-length, some of which show reflections of people who are not there, and finishes with a gaslight surrounded by mirrors creating a mise en abyme effect.
- The Fire Tent: Includes a fire eater, fire stick twirler, and a fire sculptor who turns fire into shapes. In FBG, this is called The Artists of Fire.
- The Clock: Placed near the entrance.
- The Cave of Voices (FBG): An indoor beach inside a tent, with a sea stretching off into the distance, and constant whispers across it. The sea is strongly implied to be the Unterzee from the Fallen London Storynexus game.
- The Tent of Bones (FBG): A museum of small pieces of bone on velvet cushions inside glass boxes; touching the case plays the echo of part of a story.
- The Tent of Clues (FBG): A "kiosk" where the black cloth is covered in white stars, and guests are challenged to count them.
- The Paper Tigers (FBG): Similar to the Big Cat show in that guests can freely interact with the tigers, but in addition they are transformed from living tigers into origami models and from there into drawings in a notebook.
- The Orchestra Of Wind (FBG): A musical performance where the melody is carried across the audience by bursts of wind, light ones carrying light melodies and stronger blasts for the bass.
- The Gingerbread House (FBG): Mentioned but not detailed. The inside is all made of sugar, marshmallows and licorice. A young woman resides within.
- The Haunted House (FBG): Not a sequence ride but a single room with a library and lit candle; guests can interact with the items in the room but many trigger scares, such as knives springing from the walls.
- The Gravedigger (FBG): A cemetary inside a tent; guests are given a shovel and can dig up items.
- The Weather Tent (FBG): A tent divided into quadrants, each of which has a different weather condition at any given time, such as rain, sun, or storm. Guests are given umbrellas; twirling your umbrella changes the weather in your quadrant.
- The Frozen Symphonies (FBG): A tent containing towers of wind-chimes made from ice, with spectacular melodies played when the wind blows across them.
- The Tent Of Books (FBG): Does not contain any books, but contains only chairs. Sitting in a chair and closing your eyes causes the story of your favourite book to pass through your head, realized and imagined.
- The Aquarium (FBG): A tent within which you can swim in breathable water with fish of many colours.
- The Seven Seas (FBG): Within the tent lies a ladder which leads out to the deck of a ship, where you remain on a sea journey.
- The Kittens: Poppet and Widget's performance of somersaulting kittens. Less regular than other acts, because the kittens get tired.
- The Juggler: Juggles black, white, and silver globes, which "float in the air".
- The Fire Breathers: May or may not also be in the fire tent. The fire is white.
- The Sword Dancers: Mentioned only.
- The Contortonist: Tsukiko's performance on a platform.
- The Living Statues: Humans who remain still for long periods of time, or move extremely slowly. Listed names are The Empress of the Night, the Black Pirate, the Lovers, the Paramour, and the Snow Queen. The Snow Queen bears an unnamed memorial, actually to Tara Burgess. FBG adds a further one, The Artist and the Model.
- Cocoa, optionally with spice or cream topping.
- Popcorn, optionally with caramel or chocolate topping. In FBG, cinnamon flavored popcorn is also available.
- Caramel apples.
- Sugar flowers.
- Cider and eiswein, in a separate Drinkery tent.
- "Delicious little cinnamon things". Cinnamon twists with icing.
- Chocolate mice with almond ears and licorice tails.
- Chocolate bats with delicate wings.
- Edible paper, with illustrations matching the flavors.
- (In FBG) Coffee, served in china cups.
- (In FBG) Sugared almonds.
Nature of magic
There are few rules given about the nature of magic within the circus, but it appears to focus around localized effects and the creation of static items. It is unlikely that magic could be used to shoot down the sun or feed the world's starving. It is also suggested that the more people know and use magic at once, the less powerful it is for everyone; this would explain the reluctance of characters to teach magic publicly.
Magic and the circus
The circus requires at least one magician maintaining it in order to operate. Magic is required to:
- Pack and unpack the circus without a crew.
- Allow the circus to be transported easily (by train).
The central bonfire of the circus is a powerful magical artefact and creates several effects which persist as long as it stays lit. It cannot be unlit except by magic and is always transported lit. The bonfire must be lit by magic, but the magic necessary is not difficult to learn (Bailey manages it quickly). The person who lights the fire has some extra control over its magic, but does not necessarily need to be the leader of the circus.
The general effects of the bonfire are:
- Maintaining the overall circus environment, such as the patterned floor.
- Allowing the continued existence of the magical attractions, such as the Ice Garden and Cloud Maze.
- Preventing any performer within the circus from failing in their performance.
- Preventing any accidents or accidental harm, to both members and visitors, within the circus (unless caused by other magic).
In addition, the bonfire can be used to bind certain people to the circus, making them "circus-bound". The person who lights the fire decides who is circus-bound and can change their selection at any time. If a person is circus-bound:
- They do not age, or age so slowly as to not be noticeable.
- They cannot bear or conceive children.
- They cannot be harmed or die (except by magic).
- They cannot leave the circus for extended periods of time.
Marco was the first to light the fire, and he bound all the members of the circus except Poppet and Widget (many of whom were unaware of such). Bailey, when relighting the fire, bound only three people: himself, Poppet and Widget. This may have been out of compassion for the other circus members or because of his lower level of magical power at the time, meaning that since he may have bound others. When a person is unbound they age normally from the age they appear to be when unbound.