By Erin Morgenstern. Published in 2011.
Emily Dickinson described books in general as frigates, "to take us Lands away," but in my experience, only the special ones actually accomplish that. Those are my favorites, transporting you to another place, sometimes foreign or alien or fantastic, sometimes a near mirror of home, but definitely elsewhere. The details conjure smells and sights and sounds with enough resonance to give your imagination material to fill in the rest, and the characters seem to continue living outside the pages. The depth and breadth of the setting invites you to linger longer than the plot does, and past and future extend beyond the story's boundaries.
The Night Circus, Erin Morgenstern's debut novel, is one of those rare frigates, so immersive that reading it is like jumping into a cool, clear pond and discovering you can breathe underwater. An elegant grown-up fairy tale, suffused with magical and ahistorical period color, it spins its love story with delicacy and ever-increasing warmth, but the real accomplishment is the setting, the circus for which the novel is named. So evocative, so beautifully and ardently rendered, the spellbinding circus is a wonder to visit.