Rules of the Game
Marco asks the man in the grey suit how he is doing in the challenge. When Marco asks for more details of how the challenge works, the man in the grey suit tells him that each player will use the circus to display their skills until there is a victor. Marco receives frequent letters from Isobel but is frustrated that they do not give more details about Celia. When the circus arrives near London, Isobel visits Marco. He takes her out to tea instead of letting her inside.
Hector’s ghost calls Celia reckless for getting Mr. Barris to help her build the carousel. They argue about the rules and how he refuses to tell her who her competitor is. Celia asks when he’ll determine a victor to which Hector responds that he is not the one who determines the outcome. Celia is enchanted by the new Ice Garden tent and is impressed by the power and skill her opponent must possess. Celia enjoys the solitude and peace within.
Herr Thiessen visits the circus in France after hearing about its clock. When he arrives, he is surprised to see that the clock is the Wunschtraum clock that Mr. Barris commissioned from him. When he tells the ticket seller that he was the person who built it, she lets him in for free. Herr Thiessen leaves only when he is too tired to continue to wander the circus. He is completely intoxicated by it and writes to Chandresh. Chandresh writes back and speaks highly of the clock and about how glad he is that Herr Thiessen enjoyed the circus. Herr Thiessen feels so inspired that he begins to make tributes to the circus in the new clocks he creates.
Celia chaperones Poppet and Widget while the circus is in Cairo. Poppet seems distracted and after some prodding, she tells Celia that she saw a woman dying in the stars. When Celia asks if Poppet sees things in the stars often, she replies that she does and that Widget sees things on people. Celia realizes that the children are special. She tells Poppet that she should tell her if she sees anything important in the stars. Celia tells them that she will give them magic lessons when they are older.
Wishes and Desires
Marco visits Isobel in the fortune-teller’s tent when the circus arrives in Paris and interrogates her about a new tent, the Wishing Tree. Marco struggles to clarify the rules of the game to her and uses an example of how their moves balance back and forth like a scale. Isobel points out that the scale will eventually break if each side keeps adding weight to tip it in their favor. Isobel says that she misses Marco as he leaves, but he does not respond. After she finishes working for the night, Isobel draws a single card from her deck that she does not return to it.
Tsukiko invites Celia to a social engagement when the circus arrives in London. Celia is soon dressed in one of her finest gowns for a Circus Dinner. She is quickly swept up by conversation with the Conspirators. When she sees her father’s ghost, she confronts him in the library. They have a brief argument before she is approached by Marco, who she recognizes as Chandresh’s assistant. Unsure of how much he saw, she says that she was looking at the books. Marco politely ushers her back for dinner. After the initial dinner, Celia is invited more often. Later, Marco returns to the area of the library where Celia was standing to inspect it. He does not see Hector in the shadows.
Herr Thiessen attends the circus several times in Dresden and writes extensively about the experience. He talks to an editor at a pub, who asks to include some of Herr Thiessen’s writing in his newspaper. Herr Thiessen’s writing quickly takes on a life of its own, getting reprinted and translated into other languages. He becomes the unofficial figurehead for the rêveurs, a group of passionate circus fans. He begins to meet and correspond with numerous rêveurs who even adopt a style of wearing black, white, or grey with a splash of red. Herr Thiessen begins corresponding with a writer he finds particularly interesting for her knowledge of the circus named Celia.
As the challenge progresses Marco begins pulling away from Isobel as he grows increasingly interested in Celia. The shift in Marco and Isobel’s relationship is most apparent when she visits him when the circus is in London to find that he has changed the locks. Significantly, he does not let her inside his flat, a physical and metaphorical rejection that implies she is no longer welcome in his private space. This schism is emphasized by the dismissive way he skims the pages of Isobel’s letters, ignoring the parts about her experiences travelling and how she misses him to look for details about Celia. That the lack of information about Celia upsets Marco serves to highlight his growing obsession with her. Marco is possibly unaware of his feelings for Celia, but his actions reveal his feelings as he folds Isobel’s letters into flying origami birds that parallel Celia’s illusionist magic from her audition. Marco coldly turns every letter and encounter with Isobel toward the topic of Celia, and deflects her every bid for closeness. In a particularly callous moment in “Wishes and Desires” that confirms the emerging love triangle, Marco spends a rare conversation with Isobel almost entirely focused on Celia and when he turns to leave, he doesn’t respond to Isobel’s statement that she misses him.
Each new attraction that Celia and Marco create within the circus represent a move in their magical game that drives the plot forward. Both Marco and Celia confront their respective teachers about the rules and purpose of the game, but receive vague, unsatisfying answers that frustrate them and increase the mystery surrounding the challenge. Celia’s frustration is clear when she argues with her father over Mr. Bariss’s assistance with the carousel while Marco takes his temper out on Isobel when she fails to notify him about The Wishing Tree the moment it arrived. Marco’s description of a set of scales that tips back and forth when something is added to it serves as a metaphor to explain the rules of the game, but even he admits to Isobel that it’s an imperfect example and that he doesn’t fully comprehend it himself. Similarly, he is unsure whether Celia can feel it when he makes a move of his own in the way that he can feel moves. While it was revealed that Celia can feel Marco’s moves when he lit the bonfire in “Opening Night II: Sparks,” Marco is unaware of this, which creates a dramatic irony as the reader is aware of elements that Marco is not.
Herr Thiessen’s involvement in the novel gains increasing traction as his passion for the circus alters the course of his life. After he attends the circus for the first time and is enchanted by it, Herr Thiessen’s passion for the circus slowly takes over his life. While his writing begins as a private exercise, he is tied closer and closer to the circus as his writings spread and he gains a following in the rêveurs. He becomes their unofficial figurehead because of their shared passion for Les Cirque des Rêves and finds in them a community. The rêveurs’ custom of wearing circus colors—black, white, or grey—along with an accent of red is even inspired by a whimsical choice that Herr Thiessen to wear such an outfit when he visits the circus, which shows just how powerful his influence his is over the circus fans,. Though he is unaware that she is the illusionist at Le Cirque des Rêves, he even starts corresponding with Celia, which indicates that he is gaining traction even within the circus itself.
The rotating cast of chaperones that the Murray twins have suggests that the circus has evolved into a more than a workplace, but a family for many of the performers. The chapter “Chaperone” reveals that many of the performers take turns watching after Poppet and Widget, providing a peek behind the curtain at how the circus performers relate to one another beyond what is shown during their performances. The twins particularly like it when Celia watches after them, but the entire community takes an active role in their upbringing. The circus rallies around the twins in order to care for them when their parents are performing, just like any close community would. The night that the twins were born, the excitement surrounding their arrival was infectious, capturing nearly everyone’s attention. In this way, the circus has grown from an assembly of strangers into a caring, and robust found family.