Part II: Illuminations
Herr Thiessen writes about the lighting of the circus in 1894, saying that it seems to glow from within. He ruminates on whether the whole circus is a complex illusion because the phrase “trick of the light” is used so often to describe what he sees there.
Opening Night I: Inception
The circus’s opening night is a feat of coordination. In a display of incredible synchronicity, twelve fire performers shoot a flaming arrow so that they hit the bonfire just as the Wunschtraum clock chimes at midnight. Each arrow changes the bonfire’s color with the final one turning it white. Opening night is considered a huge success as circusgoers enthuse about what they see. Unexpectedly, the wild-cat tamer’s wife gives birth to twins. The boy, Widget, is born just before midnight, and the girl, Poppet, comes just after midnight. The performers visit the babies between performances and many remark about their brilliantly red hair.
Opening Night II: Sparks
Because the circus is the venue for his challenge with Celia, Marco devises a way to magically bind himself to it while it travels. On opening night, he surreptitiously places a notebook inside the cauldron before it is lighted. The notebook is a replica of one he keeps in his office. The book opens to reveal the drawing of a tree when it lands in the bottom of the cauldron. Marco watches carefully while the archers light the cauldron with their arrows.
Meanwhile, Celia performs as an illusionist. Between performances, she goes to watch the lighting of the bonfire but gets swept up in the excitement of the Murray twins’ births. After the first child is born, Celia feels an energy course through the circus and her body. She swoons but is steadied by Tsukiko. Celia is left rattled but understands that the feeling was a move made by her opponent. She observes that it feels like the entirety of the circus has been encircled by a net.
Opening Night III: Smoke and Mirrors
Chandresh moves through the circus on opening night making notes for small adjustments. Chandresh is joined by Tara Burgess and they watch the bonfire lighting. When the final arrow lands, Chandresh stumbles and drops his cigar. Tara asks if Chandresh is all right and leads him away from the crowd. Suddenly, Marco appears and takes over caring for Chandresh. Realizing that Tara is staring, Marco assures her that Chandresh is in good hands. Later, Lainie asks Tara if something is wrong and Tara asks what Lainie knows about Marco. Lainie says that she knows that Marco has worked for Chandresh for some time, that he specializes in accounting, and that he was a scholar before that. The sisters return to exploring the circus.
The Hanged Man
The narrator switches back to second person point of view as the story moves into a tent where aerialists perform. There are no nets as acrobats perform directly above the audience. One acrobat spins above the audience while hanging by one leg. When he appears to fall toward the audience below him, they react by diving and looking away. He stops just as he reaches eye level with the audience and he takes a bow while upside-down making it clear his descent was all part of his act.
Bailey eagerly awaits dusk so he can go to the circus. On arriving, he thinks of the red-haired girl he met the last time he was there and chides himself for being silly enough to look for her. He watches the contortionist twist herself into a small glass box and disappear. After the rest of the crowd disperses, Bailey walks around her platform trying to understand where she went. He is awestruck as he cannot explain how she performs her tricks. Bailey exits the tent to find a statue-like figure dressed in all white with a memorial plaque at the base of her platform.
The lighting of the bonfire is a pivotal moment in the plot as it ties Marco magically to the circus and initiates the start of the game. Marco’s ritual parallels the binding magic that the man in the grey suit and Hector used to connect Celia and Marco together as children to begin the challenge. Celia’s reaction to Marco’s magic is highly symbolic as she feels that the circus is a fluttering butterfly that has had a net thrown over it. The symbolism foreshadows that there may be grave stakes that come with the challenge and reveal that everyone involved in the circus has now become inextricably linked to the outcome. The birth of the Murray twins reinforces this development, and uses the motif of color via their startling red hair against the backdrop of the black and white circus to emphasize their significance. As newborns, the Murray twins symbolize the innocent bystanders whose lives are now permanently linked to the circus and the magical challenge taking place there. Similarly, Chandresh and the Burgess sisters are present for opening night and are impacted by the magical reverberations of Marco’s opening move in the game, indicating that even those who are externally linked to the circus are now bound to the challenge.
By spreading the opening of the circus over three chapters narrated from multiple points of view, different aspects of and perspectives on the same event are revealed. The first chapter is told by an omniscient narrator, which allows for an objective view on the majesty of the newly lighted bonfire and the excitement surrounding the birth of the Murray twins. The omniscient view of these events contributes to the tone of mystery and suspense about how magic will impact the circus and the newborn Murray twins. The second chapter follows Marco’s point of view to reveal his plan to use the bonfire to connect himself to the circus as well as his nervous energy as the challenge gets underway. In keeping with their parallel perspectives, the second chapter then switches to follow Celia’s point of view and reveals the disorienting effect Marco’s magic has on her and the whole circus. The third chapter is told through Chandresh’s point of view to increase the dramatic irony since Chandresh is unaware of what is really going on, but is profoundly impacted by the magic Marco uses nonetheless. The tone becomes ominous as Chandresh stumbles and Tara Burgess becomes suspicious of Marco’s maneuvering and motivations. The novel’s narrative structure of multiple points of view creates an evolving sense of what occurs on opening night, with layers of it being revealed in each chapter.
Bailey’s return to the circus for the first time after many years of dreaming about it foreshadows a growing connection between Bailey’s life and the circus. Bailey is not quite aware of what draws him so strongly to the circus himself. Bailey struggles internally with his desire to visit the circus, wondering frequently if it is childish as his sister Caroline has repeatedly suggested. Even when he enters the circus with Poppet on his mind, he actively refuses to acknowledge the thought, subconsciously afraid to embrace the circus’s magical pull. Similarly, though Bailey is interested in the whimsey and escapism of the circus, it becomes increasingly evident that he is more observant than the average circusgoer as he becomes distracted during both Tsukiko’s and Celia’s performances when he realizes that there is no logical way that either of the women could have made themselves disappear. Bailey’s burgeoning ability to see the magical mechanisms behind the circus’s operations are as subtly woven into the narrative as the magic of the tents themselves. Significantly, Bailey’s return to the circus in “Oneiromancy” is a time jump of seventeen years in the narrative. This time jump allows a glimpse into the circus’s future when Bailey notices the memorial statue of a beautiful, frozen woman. The statue ominously foreshadows the death of someone involved with the circus and introduces a mystery over whom it may be. Bailey’s unusual ability to observe seemingly small details at the circus along with the magnetic pull it has over him foreshadows his increasingly importance in the plot.