A definite keeper, this one.
Most of the story takes place in a magical black and white circus called "Le Cirque des Reves", which only opens at night and closes its doors at dawn. It appears unexpectedly in several cities, leaving its visitors in ecstasy with the incredible tents in its midst. The descriptions of the circus are very vivid and overall stunning. All of the sensations featured in the book felt incredibly real to me, and that enhanced my reading experience.
The main characters (besides "Le Cirque") are Celia Bowen and Marco Alisdair. They are pawns in a game idealised by their masters, competing in a challenge whose real purpose remains unknown, which takes place in the circus.
Celia Bowen is the apprentice of Hector Bowen, a famous illusionist known by the name of Prospero, and also her father. Her training was very practical and intense, sometimes even cruel. She follows her father's method of performance, that consists in disguising real magic as a simple illusion for the public.
Marco Alisdair, chosen strangely at an orphanage by Alexander, his professor, is taught very differently. He dives in books and practices his magic very little. Alexander is more discrete than Prospero, and encourages Marco to act from the shadows, intervening in secret instead of doing it for a public.
These two ways of using magic are confronted as Celia (the circus's illusionist) and Marco (the creator of the circus's assistant) create tent after tent of puzzling beauty and lively magic.
However, Celia and Marco end up falling in love with each other. That just makes the challenge they face all the more difficult. As the years go by and the game remains without a winner, how will the two lovers find happiness competing endlessly against each other? Ah, tortured lovers - a winner, for sure.
Of course, this is only a small part of what happens in this treasure of a book. There are many more characters to get to know, including Herr Thiessen, Chandresh, Poppet and Widget Murray, Isobel, Tsukiko, etc. [they're all amazing, by the way]
In general, I enjoyed "The Night Circus" very much, and I would without a doubt recommend it.
But I do have to warn those of you who aren't very fond of slow-paced books that this one might fit that category. I didn't think it was very slow and I enjoyed it a lot, but I thought a small warning was a good idea.