“I spent the first several years of my life watching my mother pine for him, steadfastly. Loving and longing far beyond the time when he had lost what little interest in her he ever held. Until one day when I was five years old and she took her own life.”

Celia explains her mother’s death to Marco when he asks her to stay for a drink after a Midnight Dinner in “Tête-à-Tête.” Celia’s mother, while never present in the book itself, plays an enormous role in how Celia sees love and relationships. Celia’s mother is a testament to the impact of unrequited or spurned love. Arguably, her death also speaks to the way that a person can be manipulated into caring for someone so deeply that it is destructive, as Hector used magic to seduce her. This event informs much of the way Celia approaches the early stages of her relationship with Marco. She insists that Marco shows her his true face, and she doesn’t let herself get too close to him for years, despite the pull that they feel toward one another. Indeed, it’s likely the intensity of the pull she feels toward Marco that makes her hesitate, as she saw her mother suffer for so long under the force of a similar attraction.

And before he can tell her to tell Widget goodbye for him if need be, she leans forward and kisses him, not on the cheek, as she has a handful of time before, but on the lips, and Bailey knows in that moment that he will follow her anywhere.

Poppet kisses Bailey after asking him to leave with Le Cirque des Rêves at the end of the chapter “An Entreaty.” While Bailey is surprised by Poppet’s request and hesitates to make a decision, the moment she kisses him, all of his hesitation is gone. The romance between Poppet and Bailey is much different than the one between Celia and Marco, but no less potent in its ability to spur them forward. Bailey, who has been on the fence about whether to follow his grandmother’s advice and go to college or take over the family farm, marshals his conviction to go with the circus the moment he understands that he can have a future with Poppet. This is a major turning point for him as a character and the plot as his decision to embrace a future in the circus is what keeps the circus alive after Celia begins to lose control of it. While this wasn’t Poppet’s intention when she kissed him, it illustrates just how potent even the possibility of romantic love can be in shaping someone’s future.

“I would have written you, myself, if I could put down in words everything I want to say to you. A sea of ink would not be enough.”  

“But you built me dreams instead.”

This quotation is from a conversation between Marco and Celia when Celia arrives at Marco’s flat after Herr Thiessen’s death in “Beautiful Pain.” A complex and emotionally wrought scene, Celia initially confronts Marco about having knowledge of Herr Thiessen’s death, but their conversation turns to what they mean to one another instead. Distraught by her friend’s death, Celia turns to Marco for comfort. Even though he has spent his life writing and reading, Marco expresses doubt about whether he can put words to his feelings for her, which speaks to their enormity. But Celia is quick to remind him that she already has proof of his love for her in the tents that he built in the circus, which she refers to here as “dreams.” Immediately after this, Celia laments that she hasn’t given Marco anything he can keep like she can the tents, showing that both of them feel insecure about whether they have done enough to demonstrate their feelings for one another. This moment is intimate and emotional and builds up to them taking other big steps in their relationship as they make love for the first time later that night.

“My opponent’s name was Hinata,” she says. “Her skin smelled of ginger and cream. I loved her more than anything in the world, as well. On that cherry-blossom day, she set herself on fire. Ignited in a pillar of flame and stepped into it as though it were water.”

In “Incendiary,” Tsukiko explains to Marco how she won the previous challenge and her heartbreak over her dead lover. Knowing that Celia plans to take her own life to save Marco and end their challenge, Tsukiko tells Marco the story of her lover and opponent to convince him it is better for him to be the one who makes that sacrifice. Tsukiko’s story provides two insights into the nature of love in the novel: the power it has to move people to take extreme measures to protect those they love, and the way those who lose love are forever impacted by that loss. In this scene, both are intertwined as Tsukiko shares her grief with Marco to get him to agree to sacrifice himself for Celia. This precipitates the crucial decision at the climax of the novel when Marco agrees to be bound to the bonfire so that Celia can win the challenge and preserve the circus.

“I used the circus as a touchstone,” Celia says. “I didn’t know if it would work but I couldn’t let you go, I had to try. I tried to take you with me and then I couldn’t find you and I thought I’d lost you.” 

“I’m here,” Marco says, stroking her hair. “I’m here.”

This quotation is part of a conversation that Celia and Marco have in the chapter “Transmutation,” occurring as they see one another for the first time since Celia bound them to the circus. An emotional scene, the pair are reunited after effectively ending the challenge and being ripped from the physical world by Celia’s magic. As part of the climax of the novel, Tsukiko brings Marco to the circus to end the challenge, which forces Celia’s hand and causes her to bind them to the circus. Because Celia wasn’t sure Marco could withstand the binding, her relief is almost palpable when she discovers that he has survived. Both Celia and Marco were prepared to die for one another and this unexpected resolution is what allows them to remain together. This moment is a testament to their love for one another and speaks to what they are willing to do to be together.