London, 1886: The circus is finally opening, and at midnight on October 14, twelve fire performers light the central bonfire. Opening night is a success, and the only strange event is that the wild-cat tamer goes into labor. She delivers a set of twins: Winston Aidan Murray is born six minutes before midnight on the 13th, and Penelope Aislin Murray is born at 12:07 on the 14th. They are known among the circus members as Widget and Poppet. They stay awake for much of the night, surprisingly alert for babies just a few hours old. In the morning, the twins fall asleep in the black wrought-iron cradle that someone has sent for them. No one knows who sent the gift, and it has no card or note, but they all just assume it was Chandresh.
The opening of the circus is a major event, and the hard work that the organizers have put in—even those not associated with the competition—is paying off, as the circus is truly an amazing spectacle. The ceremonial lighting of the bonfire marks it as a central element of the circus, although very few are aware of just how essential it is. The timing of the twins’ birth, on either side of midnight, will be significant, as Widget will go on to see the past, while Poppet will see the future.
In the meantime, Marco is nervous and impatient for the lighting of the bonfire, which he has organized. Ever since learning that the circus is the venue for the competition, Marco has taken more responsibility for things, and he is convinced that the bonfire will be his strongest tie to the circus. Right before the lighting of the fire, Marco takes out a small notebook, a copy of which is locked in his office. He tosses the notebook into the cauldron right before the fire performers take their places.
Marco’s relationship with the circus as the venue for the competition is complex: while Celia will be able to showcase her magical skills, Marco must work behind the scenes. The bonfire is his first significant magical contribution, as the notebook he throws into the fire will provide protection for all of the performers and organizers.
Celia, for her part, is enjoying the first night of performances, and she feels much more comfortable than she expected. Close to midnight, she is swept up in the excitement of the birth of the twins, and she helps out by bring tea and reassuring people that it will be fine. And although she is nowhere near the bonfire, she can feel the lighting before she hears the applause; it nearly knocks her off her feet, and Tsukiko has to keep her steady. Celia knows that her competitor has made a move, and she wonders how she should retaliate.
Marco and Celia soon find that they are deeply connected to one another, and in this moment, although she does not know the identity of her opponent, Celia can feel Marco’s magic as the bonfire is lit. She considers her next move in the competition, and it seems that both Marco and Celia are nervous about competing, especially as neither knows the rules of the game.
Chandresh spends opening night walking around the circus, making small tweaks to what is already a breathtaking show. Right before midnight, he looks for Marco but cannot find him, and he bumps into the Burgess sisters, Tara and Lainie, instead. They watch the lighting of the bonfire, and when the clock strikes midnight, Chandresh begins to feel dizzy and unsettled. Just at that moment, Marco arrives and the sisters ask him for help. Marco tells them it’s probably nothing, and he ushers Chandresh away. Concerned, the sisters comment to each other that they really know nothing about Marco.
Chandresh still believes that he is completely in charge of the circus, and that Marco is nothing more than his assistant. He does not suspect that Marco is infusing the bonfire with magic in order to protect the circus, or that it is secretly the venue for the competition between Celia and Marco. To keep him unaware, Marco has placed Chandresh under some sort of spell, which often makes him feel dizzy or discombobulated.
Concord, MA, 1902: Bailey waits anxiously for the sun to set so that he can go to the circus again. In the evening, Bailey announces that he is going to the circus, and while he is required to invite his sister, he ends up going on his own. He worries that it will feel childish, but he realizes that there are many older children and adults waiting in line with him. He starts by having an apple cider, and although he lives on an apple orchard, he finds that nothing has ever tasted this good. He watches the contortionist (Tsukiko), even though it is almost painful to see, as she folds herself into a small box and closes the lid. It then fills with white smoke until it breaks open, with no one inside.
A few years older than the last time the circus was in town, Bailey worries that he will not find the circus as enchanting as when he was younger. Not surprisingly, however, Bailey finds that it is as appealing to adults as to young children, and is seduced by the way the circus can improve on even the most familiar aspects of his life, like the apple cider he has tasted so many times on the orchard. He also watches the contortionist, Tsukiko, perform something close to magic.
Bailey walks into a tent promising “Feats of Illustrious Illusion” and sits down. He notices a woman appear next to him, though he cannot understand how she got in. Then, suddenly, the empty chair across from him bursts into flames. The woman sitting next to him winks at him, stands, unbuttons her coat and throws it at the burning chair. It becomes a long strip of black silk that extinguishes the flames immediately. She pulls the fabric off the chair to reveal doves, and then folds the silk into a top hat, which she places on her head. The rest of the performance is equally amazing, and she finishes by simply disappearing from the tiny tent. As Bailey leaves the tent, he sees a figure on a platform, dressed completely in white, moving almost imperceptibly. She is standing on a platform with a plaque that simply says, “In Memoriam.”
Bailey’s first experience in the illusionist’s tent is spectacular, and reveals Celia’s incredible showmanship and magical abilities. Again, she is performing real magic, and the audience is left to wonder how she managed to make it all happen; in addition, because the tent is small and cozy, she is able to make a personal connection with her audience, like appearing next to Bailey and winking at him. Celia is clearly enjoying her work, beyond her concerns about the competition. The memorial Bailey sees outside of the tent is dedicated to Tara Burgess, one of the circus organizers who has died a few years earlier.
Marco’s only opportunity to see Mr. A.H., his guardian and teacher, is at the Midnight Dinners at Chandresh’s house, and the magician is attending those infrequently. Anxious to find out how he is doing in the competition, Marco calls for Mr. A.H. the only way he knows how: by drawing a set of symbols in the frost on his window, all of which form the shape of an A. His teacher arrives the next day, unhappy about the invitation. Marco asks him how he is progressing, and he responds that his work has been “sufficient.” Marco says he doesn’t understand the rules, and Mr. A.H. says that he doesn’t need to. He then tells Marco not to call him again like that, and leaves.
As the competition has gotten underway, both Celia and Marco are concerned with their progress, and have no information about what is happening or which one of them is winning. Mr. A.H. has established himself as distant and obsessed with control, so it is no surprise that when Marco calls for him, he is annoyed and reluctant to offer him any useful information. Marco is in a difficult place: he is obligated to participate in a competition, yet no one will tell him the rules or how he is being evaluated.
Meanwhile, at the circus, Celia is standing in front of the Carousel when Hector appears to tell her that he does not like it at all. She disagrees, and he tells her she is being reckless because he is only a ghost. She reminds him that he did it to himself, so he cannot blame her. He changes the subject, asking her how much she has told Mr. Barris, the engineer. Celia responds that she has told him as much as he needs to know to help her, and she asks if Mr. Barris is her opponent. He is not, but Hector still considers the collaboration a bad idea, telling her that “working with others will only drag [her] down.”
Celia’s father is more communicative with her than Mr. A.H. is with Marco, but she hardly benefits from his frequent visits, as he mainly criticizes her and her choices in the circus. He seems to think that she is rebelling against him, and blames it on the fact that he is not fully alive and cannot control her the way he would like. He takes issue with her attempts to include others in her work, like the collaboration with Mr. Barris.
Celia wants to know who her opponent is, but Hector insists that the opponent’s identity doesn’t matter. She responds that it matters to her, and that she believes he knows who she is. Hector asserts that it is better to do her work without influence from her opponent and without collaborating in any way. Frustrated, Celia asks how she can be judged if she doesn’t know any of the rules. As she talks, the Carousel slows to a stop, with the magical animals looking straight at Hector. Hector lets her know that this is much more than a game, and he tells her to stop asking questions before disappearing.
Like Marco, Celia wants to know more about the competition, but Hector refuses to offer any more information than he has in the past. He criticizes her again for her desire to collaborate, in an attempt to isolate her. Just has she has done since the first time they met, Celia uses her magic to express her anger and frustration towards her father. Hector’s note that this is more than a game points vaguely to the deadly consequences of the competition.
Marco is frustrated by the letters he gets from Isobel because he wants to know more about Celia than Isobel can possibly tell him. He wants to know about her life, her preferences, her performances, everything. But he cannot ask Isobel these things, and so he simply asks her to write as often as she can.
Isobel has become Marco’s eyes and ears within the circus, and he is happy to have someone supporting him in the competition. However, he is already beginning to think of Celia as more than a competitor, and he soon finds that Isobel’s observations are not a real substitute for seeing Celia in person.
Celia is excited to visit the new tent, as new tents are rare in the circus. She considers canceling her shows to see it, but she dutifully waits until her work is over, visiting The Ice Garden a little before dawn. There is an addendum to the sign that apologizes for any thermal inconvenience, which Celia finds humorous. The tent’s interior is amazing: everything is sparkling and white, and the air feels magical, giving Celia a shiver that she cannot attribute to the drop in temperature alone. Alone in the tent, she explores the flowers and fountains, trees and vines, all made completely of ice. She cannot imagine how much skill it must have taken to create and maintain such a tent, and she wishes she could talk to her opponent about how he made it. She enjoys having the space to herself and stays until the gates to the circus close for the night.
Although she will not know for a while who is responsible for the Ice Garden, Celia can feel that this tent is her opponent’s work, and believes that she can get a feel for who this person is through his magic. Just as Marco has begun to realize the complexity of his feelings for Celia, she feels a strong attraction to her opponent, whoever he is. His specialty is the creation of worlds, down to the smallest detail, and Celia appreciates how thorough he is. While their teachers insist that they focus on competing against one another, Marco and Celia are finding that the game is bringing them together through their shared love of magic and the circus.
When the circus comes back around to London again, Isobel comes to Marco’s flat to visit. She knocks on the door, and when he opens it she notes that he has changed the locks. He asks why she didn’t tell him she was coming to visit, and she responds that she thought he might like the surprise. He does not let her into his flat, and comes out for a walk instead. They go for tea, and he notices something strange on Isobel’s wrist. She tries to hide it from him, but it is a bracelet woven with his hair intertwined with hers. He says nothing more, but when she returns to the circus later that evening, the bracelet has disappeared.
While the competition is bringing Celia and Marco closer together through their magic, Marco’s relationship with Isobel is becoming more complicated and one-sided. She is clearly dedicated to him, but he has shut her out emotionally, which is reflected in the fact that he has changed his locks so she cannot enter his flat. She has made a bracelet from his hair, possibly a magical charm, but he secretly removes it, not wanting her to control their relationship.
Herr Thiessen, the clockmaker, is on holiday in France, visiting vineyards, strolling the countryside, and buying wines to send back home to Munich. He has made clocks for many of the winemakers there and knows them very well. He was visiting one of them when, over a glass of burgundy one evening, the winemaker mentioned that there was an unusual circus a few miles away that Thiessen might enjoy, particularly because of the black-and-white clock that was the circus’s centerpiece. The clockmaker is intrigued and decides to attend the circus that very night. He wanders out in the direction that the winemaker indicated, and quickly finds himself in a crowd of people walking in the same direction towards a glowing circus, like moths to a flame.
Friedrick Thiessen has not thought about the clock he made for Ethan Barris in a long time, and so he is unaware of the impact it has had on visitors to the circus up to this point. When he hears that his clock may be the centerpiece of a traveling circus that happens to be in France, he is curious. This casual moment is the start of an important part of the circus: the development of the rêveurs, a group of devotees who are inspired by Thiessen and his writings about the circus.
As Thiessen nears the circus, he recognizes his clock immediately as it looms over the ticket booth. It is just about to strike 7 P.M., and Thiessen stands back to watch the harlequin juggler pull out a seventh ball to mark the hour. He goes to the booth to buy his ticket, and asks the ticket seller whom he might contact about the clock. He explains that he created it, and she refuses to charge him admission to the circus. She gives him a business card with Chandresh’s information on it and his address in London. The circus feels comfortable to him, maybe because it fits in so well with the idea he had for the clock. He visits a few tents that evening, drinking eiswine from Canada and watching sword dancers and fire-breathers. He is besotted when he finally leaves that night, and attends twice more before returning to Munich.
Thiessen attends the circus for the first time, feeling a sense of comfort and familiarity already, thus beginning his personal connection to Le Cirque des Rêves. He is treated like a member of the community from the moment he reaches the ticket booth, unable to pay admission because, as the maker of the clock, he belongs to the circus as well. Beyond the magical elements of the competition between Celia and Marco, the circus is enchanting, as the organizers have truly created an escape from daily life, combining marvels from all over the world.
Thiessen writes a letter to Chandresh on his return to thank him for giving the clock such a wonderful home. He receives a response some weeks later, expressing appreciation for Thiessen’s compliments, and noting that he will be contacted immediately if there is a problem with the clock. The letter does not mention when the circus will return to Germany. Thiessen begins to create a series of black-and-white clocks inspired by the circus, though he believes he does not do the real circus justice in his reproductions.
Thiessen’s enthusiasm for the circus does not end when he returns to Germany, and when he writes to Chandresh, he hopes to find out when he can attend the circus again. In the meantime, he is inspired by the aesthetics of the circus—which, in their own way, were inspired by the clock he created—and thus begins a new phase of productivity for the clockmaker.
Cairo, 1890: The Murray twins, Widget and Poppet, have their run of the backstage area of the circus, where the performers live together like a family, but they cannot wander into the public areas of the circus without a chaperone. Their father, the wild-cat tamer, insists on this until they are at least eight years old, even though Widget argues that he should consider their combined total age. Celia is chaperoning them this evening, a rare event and one that the twins welcome.
Although the circus may feel like a family for many of the performers and organizers, for Poppet and Widget, it is the only family they have known, as they are children of performers and were born on the circus grounds. Celia takes on a maternal role with them, which is interesting, considering that she has been motherless (and effectively fatherless, given that Hector is more of a teacher than a father to her) for most of her life.
They begin in the Ice Garden, but the twins get impatient and ride the Carousel twice and then get popcorn, though Poppet isn’t hungry. Celia asks her if anything is wrong, and she responds vaguely that she doesn’t “want the nice lady to die.” When Celia presses her for details, Poppet cannot specify much except that she sees things in the stars, and that Widget can see things on people. Celia asks him what he can see on her, and he tells her about a “lady who cries all the time” and a “ghost man with a frilly shirt,” before Celia magically makes those visions disappear for Widget.
This is the first real indication that the twins have developed supernatural powers. Poppet’s visions of the future are slightly troubling to her, as she does not completely understand what she is seeing. She is actually foreseeing the death of Tara Burgess, but does not know it yet. When Widget looks at Celia’s past to find her mother and father, she feels vulnerable, and closes herself off to him to maintain the privacy she so values.
As Celia digests this new information about Poppet and Widget, she looks past them towards the courtyard and the bonfire. The bonfire never goes out; even as the entire circus travels by train, the fire burns steadily in its iron cauldron. Celia is sure that the ceremonial lighting of the fire on opening night set in motion something mysterious and magical that touched everyone in the circus, especially the twins. She then asks Poppet to tell her anything important that she sees; Poppet responds by nodding and, with a serious look on her face, asking for a caramel apple. Widget is out of popcorn, and Celia takes his bag and folds it up until it disappears. She then asks them if they would like to learn to do some of the magic she performs, offering to give them secret lessons when they are a little bit older.
Once she has learned about the twins’ powers, Celia makes the connection between their birth and the bonfire. She realizes the essential role that the bonfire plays in the circus, though she will not find out how important it will become to her life until much later on. She also recognizes how valuable Poppet’s visions of the future can be, and this strengthens her relationship with the twins. While Celia was already something of a mother figure to them, her offer to teach them magic will help her keep them close to her, and share information with her, if need be.
Paris, 1891: Marco shows up at Isobel’s tent unannounced, holding a notebook open to a drawing of a tree. He shows her the drawing and demands to know why she didn’t tell him about the new tent, the Wishing Tree. She is surprised—Isobel thought maybe it was Marco’s creation and wasn’t sure whether to write to him about it. She likes it, especially the way wishes are added by lighting candles using ones already lit: “New wishes ignited by old wishes.” Marco does not share in her wonder at that moment—he knows that it is Celia’s creation and is unnerved. When Isobel asks how he can be certain Celia created it, he replies that he can feel a shift in the air, like the calm before a storm. She then asks if Celia gets that same feeling from his magic, and Marco considers this, pleased by the idea.
Marco’s relationship with Isobel continues to deteriorate, as he becomes increasingly focused on Celia, both as an object of attraction and as a rival in the competition. He is angry with Isobel for not letting him know about this new tent, which he is certain is Celia’s creation, but Isobel does not have the same intuitive connection to her, and has no idea who created the tent. The feelings he gets when Celia performs new magic are suspiciously intimate, and emphasize the complex combination of rivalry and love that is already blossoming between the two magicians.
Trying to help, Isobel tells Marco that he can do what he wants to the Wishing Tree now that he knows about it. But it doesn’t work that way, Marco explains: it is more like a game of chess, and he cannot simply remove her pieces from the board. When Isobel asks what the endgame is, Marco replies that it is actually not like chess at all, but more like a set of scales, with each of them filling up their side in order to tip the scales. Again, Isobel wants to know more, wondering if the scale could break under the weight, and Marco decides that the scales comparison is a bad one, as well.
This conversation between Marco and Isobel is frustrating for both of them: Isobel desperately wants to help Marco win the competition, yet she does not understand how it works, what he is supposed to do, or how she should be helping. Marco’s attempts to explain the competition show that he really doesn’t understand either, or at least that he cannot articulate the complexities of it.
Frustrated, Isobel asks how long the competition will go on, and Marco says he doesn’t know and asks if she would like to leave the circus. She doesn’t want to leave, but she wants to understand what is going on, and wants to be as helpful as possible. Marco tells her she is being helpful already, that she is his advantage over Celia. According to Isobel, Celia has not reacted in any perceptible way to the competition. She keeps mostly to herself, reads voraciously, is close to Widget and Poppet, and treats Isobel nicely, as well. She has never done anything out of the ordinary, with the exception of her performances.
Marco’s response to Isobel’s frustration is telling: he asks her if she would like to leave the circus, revealing his internal desire to have her out of the way. Yet he is conflicted, because he also wants her around to observe Celia. Isobel does not feel she is being useful, as there is not much to tell Marco about Celia. In contrast to Marco’s strategizing in the competition, Celia does not seem to be doing anything specific to win the competition.
Isobel wonders if it is Ethan Barris who created the Wishing Tree. Marco responds that this is beyond the work of impressive mechanics, just as the Carousel must be infused with some of Celia’s magic, as well, giving the animals life. Isobel quietly asks if Marco made a wish, a question he ignores. Instead, he asks if Celia still performs on the quarter hour, and plans to go watch her next performance. Before leaving, he sternly tells Isobel to let him know whenever there is a new tent. Isobel tells him she misses him, and Marco leaves without a word. Hours later, Isobel takes out her personal tarot deck and draws a single card. It tells her what she already suspects, and she does not return the card to the deck.
Isobel is still focused on preserving her tenuous relationship with Marco, doing and saying everything she can to make him happy, despite the fact that he clearly is preoccupied with Celia and the competition. Marco’s silence about whether or not he made a wish on the Wishing Tree is one way for him to maintain control over the situation, not letting Isobel know what he is really feeling. His silence when Isobel tells him she misses him is also a way to shut her out, and she begins to realize how he is feeling even before she reads it in her tarot deck.
London, 1891: The train arrives in London just after nightfall, and the train cars transform back into circus tents. All of this happens without the help of a crew, although the performers assume there must be unseen stagehands doing some of the work. Once they are set up outside, most of the performers go out to visit friends and enjoy the city. Celia stays behind in her cozy backstage suite, which is filled with books and old furniture, with candles burning on every surface.
The circus train perfectly illustrates the ways in which magic is being used in Le Cirque des Rêves behind the scenes, without the other performers or organizers knowing about it. Celia somehow manages to transform the tents into train cars and back again while letting the others believe that there are workers taking care of these monumental tasks.
Tsukiko stops by and invites Celia to join her in a social engagement. Celia agrees, and is pleasantly surprised when they arrive at Chandresh’s house. She has never attended one of his Midnight Dinners, and the other guests are surprised but glad to see her there. She feels uncomfortable among people who have known each other for such a long time, but Tsukiko includes her in the conversation, and Mr. Barris pays her so much attention that he is teased about it. Celia secretly commends Mr. Barris’s acting—they both act as though they hardly know one another, despite having exchanged letters and spent a lot of time together, collaborating on creations for the circus.
Celia’s first visit to Chandresh’s house for a Midnight Dinner is significant, as she is able to connect with the circus organizers, many of whom she hardly knows. Of course, she has maintained a secret friendship with Mr. Barris, and even let him in on the genuine magic behind the circus, so the two of them enjoy their shared secret. Overall, the dinner provides Celia with a sense of belonging, as she is welcomed as part of the circus family.
As Celia is enjoying the atmosphere of the Dinner, she notices a movement in the hall and slips out unnoticed to speak to her father, Hector. He chides her for attending a social event, which he considers a misuse of her time and a distraction. He argues that she is losing her focus, while she defends herself by arguing that he does not get to dictate how she spends her every moment. She also notes that the better she knows the people in the Dinner, the better she can manipulate their work. Hector grudgingly agrees, but reminds her not to trust anyone. At that moment, Marco gently informs Celia that dinner is about to begin, and her father vanishes. Aware that it appears that she is talking to herself, Celia explains that she has become distracted by the books in the library.
Hector Bowen spends much of his time hiding in the shadows, as he is unable to come out and interact with other living beings. Again, his conversation with Celia centers around her desire to be with other people and make human connections, and his insistence that she isolate herself and focus on the competition. She has learned over time, however, and comes up with the valuable idea that she needs to observe the others so that she can manipulate their work. It is clear, however, that Celia is searching for connections and belonging, which are more important to her than the competition and pleasing her father.
During the dinner, Celia enjoys her food and observes her fellow guests in an attempt to discern the relationships and feelings between them. Marco maintains a quiet distance from the guests, but the more that Chandresh drinks, the more he watches the handsome young man. She determines that Mr. Barris is in love with Lainie Burgess, though she cannot tell if Lainie knows. Celia finds that Tara Burgess, with her haunted expression, reminds Celia of her own mother.
The organizers of the circus function as a complex but loving family, and the budding romance between Marco and Celia is not the only emotional entanglement in the story. Despite his deep connection to Celia, Ethan Barris has feelings for Lainie Burgess, and Chandresh has possibly developed some feelings for his attractive young assistant, Marco.
As the evening goes on, there are lighthearted jokes about unlacing Celia’s corset, and even the usually reserved Marco chimes in this time. As Celia leaves with Tsukiko, Marco watches her through the window. He then finishes cleaning up and checks on Chandresh, who mentions Celia only to gauge Marco’s reaction. Marco struggles not to react, and they both retire to their rooms. But before Marco goes to his room, he passes by the library, trying to guess what Celia was doing in there alone. He does not notice Hector watching him from the shadows.
The sense of closeness and intimacy that the Midnight Dinner brings is important, especially for Celia and Marco, who have spent much of their lives in pained isolation, and long to connect with other people. Yet for Marco, the most important connection is to Celia, both as a rival and an object of intense attraction. He is curious about what she was doing in the library, because he still does not know about Hector Bowen’s ghostly status.
Herr Thiessen is in Germany when he receives a card informing him that the circus will be outside of Dresden on the 29th of September. He can hardly contain his excitement and spends the day before the circus’s arrival wandering around Dresden. When Thiessen finally passes through the gates again, he feels like he is returning home. He goes to the circus nearly every night, and spends his days writing in a journal. He also talks about the circus with others in the local pub, including the editor of the city paper, who convinces Thiessen to show him the journal and, once he has read it, wants to publish excerpts of it in the paper. Thiessen agrees and publishes a number of articles on the circus, which are then published in other German papers, and then translated and published in Sweden, Denmark, France, and London, England.
It is unclear who sent Thiessen the card informing him of the circus’s stop in Germany, but this will be the way in which many of the devoted fans inform each other about upcoming locations, in a kind of internal network. The circus provides Thiessen with a sense of magic, mixed with feelings of home and family, and many other followers will express some of the same feelings about the place. Thiessen’s conversation with the editor of the city paper, and his agreement to publish some of his journal entries, is the start of a multinational network of fans, with Thiessen at their center, articulating their devotion to the circus.
Thanks to these articles, Thiessen becomes the unofficial leader of a large group of circus fans, who begin to call themselves rêveurs. His fellow fans seek him out and often write letters with their own circus stories; some of them commission clocks depicting their favorite parts of the circus. He also inspires their unofficial uniform when he tells some friends that he likes to wear a black coat to the circus, to feel part of the color scheme, and to wear a dash of red to set himself apart from it at the same time. Thus begins their distinctive custom of wearing all black, white, or gray, with a single item of red, like a scarf or hat.
The rêveurs, with their specifically chosen color scheme, are a significant addition to the circus’s aesthetic: the black and white color scheme is intensified when the circus is filled with its loyal rêveurs, and their individual dashes of red provide a shock of color that sets them apart. It is fitting that Thiessen has inspired this, as his clock is visually the emblem of the circus, and he now spends time creating circus-themed clocks.
Some of the rêveurs follow the circus from location to location, and although the stops are not publicized, certain members receive advance notice and send the news along via small, rectangular cards that announce “The circus is coming…” and note the location, and sometimes the date. Yet even those who do not have the means to travel with the circus are considered rêveurs. They provide a sense of community and connection, meeting up at local pubs and waiting for the sun to set and the circus to open. There is something about the circus that stirs their souls and stays with them after it is gone. The circus appreciates these fans, and often they will be waved in without being charged admission, or will receive a free mug of cider or a bag of popcorn.
While from the inside, the circus provides a sense of family to the performers and organizers, the rêveurs have also created that sense of belonging, and faithfully maintain it even when the circus is not in their city or country. They have developed a network of information about the circus’s travels, and organize group trips, helping each other find lodging in foreign cities. They are treated specially by the circus family, as well. This family is inclusive, however, and rêveurs need not travel to the circus to feel a part of it.
Thiessen receives dozens of letters from rêveurs. He responds to all of them, and some evolve into ongoing correspondences. He receives a letter from a young woman who seems to know the circus more personally than most, and he begins to correspond with Celia Bowen.
One of the most important connections that Thiessen makes at this time is his friendship with Celia Bowen, who he does not know—yet—as the illusionist at the circus.
Marco goes to visit Mr. Barris in his London office, to talk about the circus, and begins their conversation with a simple question: “How much do you know?” After some thought, Mr. Barris realizes that Marco is Celia’s opponent, and acknowledges that she told him about the competition, though only the most basic information. She revealed that everything she does in the circus is real, and asked him what he would design if gravity were no object. Celia and Mr. Barris then began collaborating on the Carousel. Mr. Barris helps to make the magic appear more like a clever feat of engineering—Celia refers to it as grounding, “making the unbelievable believable.” Marco asks if Celia had any hand in the Stargazer, another tent in the circus, but Mr. Barris informs him that it is purely mechanical. Marco calls him a magician in his own right.
This conversation between Marco and Mr. Barris opens up some significant new opportunities for Marco and Celia in the game, but they will be collaborating rather than competing against one another, bringing them even closer together and reinforcing their growing attraction to one another. In addition, working with Mr. Barris will give Marco a venue for his magic, so that he isn’t only working behind the scenes as he has done thus far. Like Celia, he will need Mr. Barris to help him pass off his magic as something believable for circus goers, an arrangement that Mr. A.H. will disapprove of strongly.
Marco has come to see Mr. Barris to ask for his assistance with a new tent. But first, Mr. Barris must agree to keep Marco’s secret and not let Celia know that he is her opponent. Mr. Barris swears to keep Marco’s secret and remain completely neutral. After the two have collaborated on the new tent, Mr. Barris receives a note from Celia asking if she can make additions to it. He informs her that it has been designed so that either side can manipulate it as they wish.
Mr. Barris is now more deeply involved in the magical aspects of the circus, and is keeping secrets for both Celia and Marco. While this is exciting for him, Mr. Barris’s secrets, and his promise to keep silent, will backfire on him when the Burgess sisters try to learn the truth about what is going on in the circus.
Celia is delighted as she walks through the hallway of the new tent, enjoying the feel of the snow on her skin. She enters various rooms, and in one she hears her father’s voice telling her that this collaboration is abhorrent. She argues with him, and then asks Hector how a winner will be determined, and he tells her that it is not her concern, and that she simply needs to do more. She asks when it will be sufficient for him, and he does not answer. Alone, Celia sinks to the ground and lets the sand slip through her fingers. Meanwhile, in his flat, Marco constructs tiny rooms of paper, connecting to rooms that Celia has created, interweaving his work with hers.
Marco and Celia have finally found a way to enjoy the competition, despite the fact that they are breaking the one and only rule that Hector and Mr. A.H. have established for them. Hector is more direct in his criticism of their collaboration, and he and Celia argue yet again, reiterating a pattern in their relationship in which she asks for more information about the competition, and he refuses to tell her anything.
Vienna, 1894: Tara Burgess comes to see Mr. Barris at his office in Vienna. When they greet each other, Tara notes pointedly that he hasn’t aged a day. She tells him that her sister Lainie is in Dublin with the circus, but Tara wanted to travel on her own, visiting friends. She is looking at the models that cover his desk and tables, and they discuss one unfinished project. She asks if he has the plans for the circus in his office, and he tells her that he left them with Marco in London and forgot about them. She asks if he forgets other plans in this way, and points out that there are many strange happenings related to the circus.
The circus has been under a magical spell that has been keeping all of the performers and organizers from aging since the opening night. While this is obviously meant as a protective spell, Tara Burgess has become suspicious and is meeting with Mr. Barris to try to find out more. Her visit begins on a friendly tone, and it takes a while for her to circle around to her question, possibly revealing how nervous she is about the subject.
Mr. Barris finally asks her what she wants to discuss, and she asks him why he left London. He acknowledges that he left for the same reason the Burgess sisters travel so often: he is aging more slowly than he should be. This is what concerns Tara, and Mr. Barris suggests that she just accept it, but she cannot. She feels that something isn’t right, and she wants to find out what it is. She also has difficulty distinguishing between when she is asleep and awake, like she is dreaming all the time. Finally, Mr. Barris opens a drawer, takes out a business card, scribbles a London address on it, and hands it to Tara. She can make out the A and H on the card.
Mr. Barris is very forthcoming about the fact that he is not aging, as it is something he cannot deny to Tara. He has accepted it, likely because he knows why it is happening, while Tara is disturbed by her lack of control over her own body. When she wonders why it is happening, Mr. Barris cannot tell her what he knows, because he does not want to break the promises he has made to Marco and Celia and can only send her to speak with Mr. A.H.
In Prague, the circus is closed due to inclement weather, and while many of the performers are enjoying an inclement-weather party, Celia decides to take her umbrella and go into the city, getting her gown soaked along the way. She finds a crowded and brightly lit café and goes in, finding a seat in front of the fireplace next to Isobel. The two women sit and chat about everything but the circus. After ordering tea, Celia looks around and mentions that she has a feeling she is being watched. They discuss the fact that they are rarely recognized in public, and Isobel notes that many of the people whose tarot she reads are more focused on the cards than they are on her face.
Despite the fact that Isobel has come to the circus to observe Celia, the two women have had very few opportunities to talk privately, so this conversation between the two of them is significant, allowing them to get to know each other more intimately. In addition, they are meeting by chance, and in a neutral space outside of the circus, so they are more relaxed, shrugging off their circus roles. Celia’s sense that she is being watched, however, makes her slightly less comfortable in this public space, though it is perhaps Isobel who is the one watching her so closely.
At the mention of reading, Celia asks Isobel if she has her cards with her, and Isobel offers to read for her. Celia has never asked Isobel read for her, but today she is curious. Isobel pulls out her personal tarot deck, and Celia notes that they are lovely cards, but there are only seventy-seven of them. Isobel only says that one of the cards is somewhere else. When the waitress brings Celia’s tea, Isobel asks if Celia did something to her, and Celia acknowledges that she diverted her attention—she has placed an invisible veil over the two of them, though she still feels that she is being watched.
Celia is an intensely private person, and the fact that she is willing to have Isobel read her tarot cards—in fact, she brings up the topic herself—is an indication of how comfortable she feels with Isobel. Clearly, she does not suspect that Isobel is watching Celia’s every move on behalf of Marco. Celia does not let down her guard completely, however, placing a veil over the two of them as Isobel reads for her.
Isobel lays out her cards: cups, the two of swords, La Papessa, and Le Bateleur, which makes Isobel gasp a little. Isobel tells Celia that she carries many burdens with her, and that she is in some sort of conflict with something unseen or hidden from her. She then notes that it will be revealed soon, which catches Celia’s attention. Isobel cannot specify, but she adds that she sees love and loss at the same time, like a beautiful kind of pain. Celia thanks her for the reading, and the two women discuss other things until Celia decides she should get back to the circus.
The tarot cards that Isobel lays out for Celia include two significant figures: the Magician and the High Priestess, representing Marco and Celia, respectively. Isobel does not reveal what she knows about the connection between the two, and hides a number of details of her reading from Celia, in part because she does not want to acknowledge the reality and depth of the connection between Celia and Marco.
Outside of the café, Celia is also thinking about her reading and the impending revelation that it promised. She hopes that means she will find out who her opponent is. As she walks in the rain, she realizes that she is both warm and dry, even the hem of her gown. She stops and observes that her umbrella suddenly seems to be repelling the rain around her like an invisible shield, even though she got soaked in spite of the umbrella earlier. Just as she realizes that this is not her umbrella, Marco runs up to her, completely soaked from the rain, with her identical looking umbrella in his hand.
This scene outside of the café is an almost immediate fulfillment of Isobel’s prophecy, that something hidden will be revealed to Celia. Upon realizing that the umbrella she is using is not hers, and is under a magic spell that helps it repel water, Celia sees Marco, which allows her to put together the puzzle pieces in her head.
Celia stares at Marco, putting the pieces together in her mind: his ability to blend seamlessly into the background, his distress at her audition, the countless glances and comments that once seemed flirtatious. She begins to laugh, and then composes herself and curtseys for him, handing him back his umbrella and getting drenched immediately once she is out of its magical sphere. He asks her to join him for a drink, and Celia considers it, wanting to discuss so many questions with him despite Hector’s warnings against it. But she turns him down, in part because she is drenched from the rain.
There have been many indications that Marco is her opponent, but Celia simply has not recognized them. Marco’s ability to blend into the background, working behind the scenes, is a major aspect of his magic, yet it is also what made him an unexpected opponent for Celia. And she now re-interprets behavior she considered flirtatious before as part of the competition, which is only partly true, as Marco is also developing strong romantic feelings for his rival.
Concord, MA, 1902: Bailey continues to wander the circus, stopping to watch the bonfire and then buy a bag of chocolates that are shaped like mice. He happens by the fortune-teller’s tent and goes in, taking in the décor that reminds him of his grandmother’s parlor, until he hears someone inviting him in. Bailey asks the fortune-teller (Isobel) about his future, explaining that his grandmother wants him to go to Harvard, while his father insists that he inherit the family farm. She asks him what he wants, but he doesn’t know. She then reads his cards, telling him that he has a journey ahead of him, and a great deal of responsibility. “I’m going to do something important, but I have to go somewhere first?” he asks, surprised by how vague the reading is. He wonders if this means he is going to Harvard.
Bailey is enjoying an evening at the circus, yet his concerns about his future are always nagging at the back of his mind. His meeting with Isobel, the fortune-teller, will give him a feeling of calm about his future, but he does not understand the context of what Isobel tells him. When she informs Bailey that he will “do something important,” he interprets it as a college career at Harvard, but Isobel knows that his future responsibility is related to the circus. Bailey is not yet ready to learn what his true destiny is at this point, and the vagueness of his reading surprises him, but allows him room to interpret it as he chooses, giving him some semblance of agency.
Isobel continues Bailey’s reading, and tells him he is looking for Poppet. She suddenly pays him more attention, and asks if his name is Bailey. When he says yes, she tells him that they have a mutual acquaintance, and that he is at the circus to find her. She then asks if he likes the circus, and he tells her he does, to which she replies mysteriously, “That would help.” Bailey offers her one of his chocolate mice as he leaves; once he is outside of the tent, he feels lighter, like the weight of his concerns about the future have been lifted from his shoulders.
Isobel is much more specific, however, when she mentions that Bailey is looking for Poppet, giving a name to the girl with the red hair whom he met years earlier, when he snuck into the circus. Meeting Poppet again will be crucial in terms of Bailey’s future with the circus, especially since Poppet is the one who truly knows how important he will be to saving it from ruin.
Barcelona, 1894: Poppet and Widget have finished their performances for the night and are relaxing in a tent, under a large, black, leafless tree. Widget asks Poppet if she wants to read the future, but she is reluctant because the last time, her vision was confusing and filled with fire and something red, and a man with no shadow. She has not told Celia yet, because the vision makes no sense to her and she is waiting to understand it before talking about it with the illusionist. Poppet also notes that they are going to have company, and that part comforts the two of them.
Poppet and Widget often use their clairvoyance with one another as a kind of game, which seems absolutely normal to the two of them. This time, however, Poppet does not want to look into the future, because what she sees scares her and doesn’t make sense yet. Poppet actually is seeing the circus’s destruction, complete with the explosion of the bonfire and the arrival of Bailey to re-light it.
Poppet then asks Widget to tell her a story, and he tells her a story about a tree. It is a story about the greatest wizard in history, who made the mistake of sharing his secrets with a young, clever, and beautiful girl. When he told her his secrets, they lost some of their power, but they were still strong enough for the girl to use against the wizard, and she trapped him in an old oak tree. The girl flaunted the secrets that she learned, and her power faded, as did she. The wizard, however, became immortal, forming part of the tree and becoming stronger than ever—though, if he could have done it over again, he likely would have held on to his secrets in the first place.
Widget tells his sister the medieval legend of Merlin, a powerful wizard was imprisoned in an oak tree by a beautiful girl named Nimue, who wanted to steal his magic. This cautionary tale seems to be reinforce the perspective of Hector and Mr. A.H., that Marco and Celia should not work together because sharing their magic will diminish its power. However, being trapped in the tree allows Merlin to gain immortality and strength, which foreshadows what will happen to Celia and Marco at the end of the novel, when they are similarly trapped.
London, 1895: While Lainie is on an extended holiday in Italy, Tara picks up the card Mr. Barris gave her and goes to the Midland Grand Hotel. When she asks for Mr. A.H. at the reception desk, there is no record of anyone by that name staying at the hotel. She wanders the lobby, confused, when a voice next to her greets her by name. She gets directly to the point, asking Mr. A.H. about the circus and explaining her concern about the fact that she has not aged in years. She requests an explanation, to which he responds that the circus “is simply a circus […] no more than that.” Tara nods in agreement, and when Mr. A.H. asks her if she has a train to catch, she also agrees, though she does not remember what time her train departs.
Tara Burgess’s growing concerns about the secrets within the circus bring her in contact with Mr. A.H., who will do just about anything to keep control of the competition and the circus. She is not aware of the danger at this point, and demands an explanation, which history has shown that Mr. A.H. is not willing to offer. He then performs some sort of mind manipulation on Tara, causing her to drop all of her concerns about the circus and agree mindlessly to his suggestions.
Mr. A.H. walks Tara to the station, suggesting that she find something to take her mind off of the circus. Again, Tara nods passively, and Mr. A.H. leaves her at her platform, despite the fact that she has not told him what train she is taking. She has already forgotten much about the conversation, except for the feeling that she should focus her attention on something other than the circus. She looks up to see Mr. A.H. on the opposite platform, arguing with someone who appears to be little more than a reflection. As she watches the two men, Tara steps forward, right into the path of an oncoming train.
At this point in time, Tara Burgess is not in control of her actions, although she is aware of what is going on around her. She can recognize that something strange is going on—Mr. A.H. has brought her to catch her train without asking her which one she is taking—but she does not have the will to resist or question him. It is in this puppet-like state that she walks into the path of the train, committing suicide under the chilling control of Mr. A.H.
In Munich, Herr Thiessen is awaiting the arrival of the circus, as well as a visit from Celia Bowen, with whom he has been corresponding for years now. When she arrives at this home, he is surprised to find that she is the illusionist from the circus; she apologizes for not telling him beforehand, but he admits that he should have known she was a performer from the intimate knowledge she has of the circus. He is happy to finally meet her, and asks why she wrote him a letter in the first place. She responds that she enjoys his writing about the circus, and likes seeing it through his eyes.
Celia has chosen to correspond with Herr Thiessen for years without acknowledging her role within the circus, which demonstrates her need to create a sincere human connection that is in no way related to the competition or her own work. She is able to step out of her role as the illusionist and see the circus from the perspective of an audience member, which separates the experience of the circus from her rivalry with Marco.
The two examine the clocks in Thiessen’s workshop, and Celia is particularly interested in one that reminds her of the bonfire. It is not working, and Celia asks if she can help. Without touching it, she manages to fix the clock and get it ticking. The two then go out to dinner in Munich; during dinner, Celia wonders why he hasn’t asked her how she does her tricks. Thiessen tells her that he doesn’t want to know—he wants to remain unenlightened, a sentiment that pleases Celia to no end. He adds that he is more interested in learning about the woman than the illusionist.
Celia feels comfortable enough with Thiessen to demonstrate her magic in front of him, knowing that in this context, he cannot dismiss it as sleight of hand or stage tricks. Yet Thiessen does not want to know the secrets underpinning her work, and when he notes that he is more interested in the woman than the illusionist, this engages with her desire to connect with someone outside of her role in the circus.
The news of Tara’s tragic death arrives from London, and everyone associated with the circus attends her funeral in Glasgow. The funeral is quiet, with a tone of thoughtful melancholy. Something is off about Lainie, though no one can put a finger on it. She greets mourners with a smile and even jokes a bit, telling everyone that she feels that her sister will always be in her heart. There are roses of every color and a performer at the cemetery—a woman dressed in white from head to toe, like a living angel.
Tara’s death is both tragic and mysterious to everyone who knows her, and it is the first event in a slow unraveling of the circus. Up to this point, the circus was a safe place and even a refuge for everyone associated with it, but Tara’s death has destroyed that sense of safety and comfort.
As Tsukiko and Isobel stand in the rain near the gravesite, Tsukiko asks Isobel how Tara died. Isobel heard that it was an accident, and that Tara was hit by a train. Tsukiko considers this and asks how she really died, which confuses Isobel. Tsukiko wonders if the circus could have driven Tara insane, but Isobel doubts that Tara committed suicide. Tsukiko does not think it was an accident, asking Isobel if anyone in the circus has had any kind of accident, or even the slightest of colds. Isobel is surprised to realize that her friend is right. Tsukiko argues that they are all in a fish bowl, being watched very carefully.
Tsukiko’s pointed questioning about the nature of Tara Burgess’s death suggests that she knows much more than she lets on. She suggests that Tara’s death was a suicide and that she was mentally unstable. The only person who knows the truth about Tara’s death is Mr. A.H., and at this point, no one besides Mr. Barris even knows that she was in London to meet with him. The mysterious circumstances surrounding her death, then, will inspire rumors and fear.
Isobel asks Tsukiko if she has ever been in love, to which she replies that she has had affairs that have lasted decades, and others that have lasted hours. She follows this non-answer with a more cryptic message for Isobel, telling her that it “will come apart,” and that the cracks are beginning to show. She asks if Isobel is still using a magic spell to keep the circus in balance; Isobel is, though she is not sure it is making any difference.
Isobel trusts Tsukiko, and when she asks a question about love, she is looking for advice on her troubled relationship with Marco. Tsukiko can see what Isobel cannot, however, and tells her that it will end. Tsukiko also sees danger in the future of the circus, and looks to Isobel to help keep everyone safe.
Concord, MA, 1902: Bailey leaves Isobel’s tent and wanders into a small crowd watching a performance. He can make out a kitten leaping through a hoop, and then a young man wearing a black suit and hat, with white kittens on his shoulders. One of the kittens hops into his hand, and then through the hoop as well, and the audience applauds. Bailey then notices something that makes him stop in his tracks: there is the red-haired girl (Poppet), though of course she is older than the last time he saw her. She is dressed all in white, even wearing a white cap over her bright red hair; she sees Bailey and smiles, clearly recognizing him and glad to see him again.
Although he does not realize it, Bailey has come to the circus in search of Poppet, who is the young red-haired circus girl he met years earlier when he snuck into the circus during the day. The image of this girl has stayed with him since that moment, and he is delighted to find that she seems to remember him as well. What he does not know at this point is that Poppet foresaw his arrival, and has been waiting patiently to see him again.
Bailey watches the rest of their performance, paying more attention to the girl than the kittens, and when they finish, he attempts to speak with her. The crowd pushes him around, though, and he loses sight of the two performers, and is frustrated with himself when he feels a tap on his shoulder. The girl has changed clothes, and looks more like a regular spectator. She calls him by name, but Bailey admits that he doesn’t know her name. She introduces herself, and Bailey realizes that she is the Poppet that Isobel mentioned to him.
Bailey believes that meeting the girl again is simply a stroke of good luck, when it is really part of a larger series of events that will lead to him taking over the circus. The girl calls him by name again, although he still has not introduced himself to her, but Bailey is too excited to see her to ask her how she knows his name.
Poppet asks if Isobel told him anything interesting about his future, and he notes that he didn’t understand much of what she told him. Poppet then introduces Bailey to Widget, and the three of them decide to walk through the circus together. As they talk, Bailey observes that the twins seem to get along much better than he does with his sister, and he wonders if it is because they’re closer in age. They all discuss what to eat, and Bailey offers some of the chocolate mice he saved from earlier. Widget commends him for being prepared, adding to Poppet that she was “right about him.” Poppet only smiles.
Bailey feels comfortable with Poppet and Widget from the very beginning, giving him a sense of family, closeness, and belonging. He reflects on his feelings towards his real family, noting that he does not have such a positive relationship with his sister. This is the beginning of Bailey’s slow realization that the circus is where he belongs, and his biological connections are not nearly as strong as the emotional ties he is creating at the circus.
Widget splits off to get cinnamon sticks, and while Bailey is alone with Poppet, he asks her how she knew his name the first time they met. She tells him that she saw him coming long before he arrived, and just knew his name. As they enjoy free cocoa, Bailey asks if Poppet sees everything before it happens, and she tells him that it’s like looking at a book with pages missing that has been dropped in a pond. They ride the Stargazer, and Poppet begins staring intently at the stars, then suddenly covers her face with her hands to shield her eyes from the bright visions that are giving her a headache. The three decide to lighten their mood in the Cloud Maze.
Bailey is finally getting around to asking questions about how Poppet knows his name. He is surprisingly accepting of her answers, and her admission of supernatural powers—this may be due to the fact that he feels so comfortable with the twins, and that the circus already feels like an alternate universe to him in many ways. Meanwhile, Poppet’s visions of the destruction of the circus are becoming clearer and more frequent.
Poppet mentions that Widget can see the past, and he and Bailey discuss how it works. Bailey asks if he will read his past, and Widget tells him about the old oak tree where Bailey feels more at home than in his own house, how he feels alone even when he’s with other people, apples, and his insufferable sister. They then enter the Cloud Maze, a huge tent with a large white structure in the middle that people are climbing all over. Widget climbs off immediately, making his way to the top as quickly as possible, while Bailey and Poppet climb more slowly, exploring together. When they get near the top, Poppet tells him that the easiest way down is to jump, and she goes first. Bailey follows after her, keeping his eyes open as he falls.
While Bailey is concerned about his future, his past reveals a lot about why he would want to escape his home: his family life offers him very little comfort or belonging, and he is not particularly close to his sister. He has already begun to find that in the circus, and these feelings will influence his choices in the future, when he is called on to take responsibility for the circus.
When they all find each other once, again, Poppet and Widget explain that they have another show at midnight and should be getting back. Bailey is surprised it’s so late—he should have been home hours earlier. Before he leaves, Poppet runs to the ticket booth to retrieve a silver ticket for Bailey, giving him unlimited admission to the circus. He promises to return the next night, and Poppet kisses him on the cheek, making him blush. Bailey realizes that he feels like a completely different person leaving the circus than he was when he entered. That night, he dreams that he is a knight on horseback, carrying a silver sword.
This visit to the circus has changed Bailey in a fundamental way: his visit to the fortune-teller gave him a sense of purpose and clarity about his future; he found Poppet, and has quickly developed a crush on her that she may even reciprocate; and he feels like he belongs at the circus, now that he has a ticket for unlimited admission. His dream reveals his growing desire for adventure and responsibility in a world outside of the family farm.
London, 1896: The Midnight Dinner is quiet this evening, despite the fact that a number of circus performers are present, including Celia. At the end of the evening, Celia has misplaced her shawl and searches for it while the other guests leave for the night. When she is finally ready to give up, she sees that Marco is holding it. She magically transports the shawl from Marco’s arms to around her shoulders and walks past him out the door. He calls after her, asking if she would have that drink with him that they did not have in Prague. She agrees, and they sit down in the dining room with two glasses of wine.
Celia and Marco have not been alone together since their meeting on the street in Prague, when Celia realized that Marco is her opponent in the competition. Yet while Marco is anxious to spend time with Celia, using the shawl as an excuse to get her alone after the Midnight Dinner, she is slightly more reluctant, nearly slipping out of Chandresh’s house before he can stop her and offer her a drink.
Celia and Marco begin to talk about magic, or “manipulation,” as she calls it, starting with the white bonfire. She also calls it “enchanting,” which sparks a conversation about how Marco has gotten both Isobel and Chandresh to fall in love with him. Marco asks how Celia knows about Isobel, and she responds that everyone knows that Isobel is in love with someone, though no one is quite sure whom, and only Celia has figured out that it is Marco.
While Marco’s interest in Celia has been obvious to many people in the circus, Celia has secretly been observing Marco as well, and is clearly wary of his charms. Marco also believed that his relationship with Isobel was a secret, but Celia is more observant than he imagined, and he cannot hide this from her.
Marco notes that his charm does not seem to have worked as effectively on Celia, and she tells him about how her father, Hector, seduced her mother and then discarded her, letting her “pine for him” until she took her own life. Celia promised herself she would not be taken in like that by anyone. Marco expresses his condolences and then asks about Celia’s mother. She only remembers her crying and looking at Celia like she was something to fear. Marco, on the other hand, does not remember his parents at all. He has no memories from before the orphanage—he knows only that he was plucked out for some unknown reason and made to study and prepare for this competition. Celia asks him why he is being so honest with her, and he tells her that it is refreshing to finally be honest.
Celia is wary of Marco’s charisma because she has seen how painful and damaging it can be to fall in love with someone—her father’s charms and self-centeredness are to blame for her mother’s suicide, and Celia is determined to learn a lesson from that. When she begins to discuss her family, Marco shares information about his early years at the orphanage and with Mr. A.H., eager to be open and honest with someone. He has spent so much time disguising his real self, that this real connection is both new and attractive to him.
Celia tells Marco that he reminds her of her father, Hector, who also manipulates perception. She tells him he doesn’t have to change his looks for her, and he allows his face to change: his goatee disappears, his cheekbones soften and his eyes fade into a less striking green. Celia felt that he was too attractive before, and she felt a hollowness about him that she found unappealing. She much prefers the real Marco whose face is before her, with the barrier removed from between them. She also realizes that she has seen him before, in the audience at her performances, and how he looked at her like he didn’t know if he was afraid of her or if he wanted to kiss her.
Marco usually changes his appearance, either to be more attractive to others, or just to avoid revealing his real self. Celia is resistant to Marco because of his similarity to her father, and rather than a charming and attractive man, she wants to spend time with a real, genuine human being. When Marco shows her his real face, she feels a deeper connection to him, and also realizes that he, too, has a complicated set of feelings for her.
Marco offers Celia a tour of Chandresh’s house, and they begin in the game room, which houses both board games and a collection of weaponry. While they examine the weapons and games, Celia asks Marco when he knew she was his opponent. He didn’t know until her audition, though knowing her identity hasn’t been much of an advantage, in his opinion. She tells him that she knew in Prague, when she took his umbrella—but he already knew that, and she wonders why he let himself be known. He explains that he was tired of hiding from her. She says she should have known it was him all along, because he pretends to be less than he is.
With the weaponry in the background to remind them that they are also opponents in a competition, Celia and Marco share their experiences, which only brings them closer together. They have each been raised in near-isolation, focusing only on this competition, and therefore they both understand each other’s experience. Marco’s desire to connect with Celia intellectually and emotionally is the reason he chose to reveal himself as her opponent.
Marco then takes out a deck of cards, and they perform small magic tricks for one another. Marco notes that Celia is better at physical manipulation, and she admits to having a natural talent for it. He asks her if she can manipulate living things, and she responds that she can only make superficial changes, and cannot repair injury to others. She then takes a sword and pierces her hand with it, healing it herself immediately in front of Marco. She tells him about how her father would slice her fingers open so that she could heal them again. Marco realizes that they have been prepared for the competition in drastically different ways, but neither of them can quite understand the point of the competition overall.
In a lighter and more flirtatious moment, Marco and Celia demonstrate their magic skills for one another, and even openly discuss their strengths and weaknesses. Celia’s ability to heal her own body is impressive to Marco, although she admits that she cannot repair other living beings, a comment that foreshadows a significant death she cannot undo, later on in the narrative. They also realize that despite being able to manipulate so many things around them (including their own bodies), they have no control over the competition they are in.
Marco brings Celia into a sunken garden room that he has made for Chandresh, in order to give him a project to occupy his time and energy. He manipulates her mind to show her what it will look like when it is finished. She is astounded at how well he can manipulate her perceptions, down to sounds and smells and touch. Marco notes that she is letting him do it, and the proximity helps, as well. He cannot do something so intricate at the circus. When he mentions proximity, Celia comes closer to him, and they stare in to each other’s eyes. Celia mentions how clever it was for Marco to use the bonfire as a stimulus, though it had consequences—namely, Poppet and Widget’s clairvoyance.
The fact that Marco has made an entire room for Chandresh, to keep his boss’s mind off of the circus, demonstrates the power Marco has over Chandresh. This fact falls into the background as Marco and Celia are focused only on one another. Marco manipulates Celia’s perceptions, which feels very intimate to her, especially since they have to be physically close to each other—and Celia has to be a willing participant—for Marco to successfully take over her mind.
They sink into cushions together and share their favorite tents—Marco’s favorite is Celia’s, of course, while Celia loves the Ice Garden because she feels like she is walking into a dream. She also mentions that she created the Wishing Tree, with its candle-lit wishes, to complement his trees made of ice. They both like working together on the Labyrinth, but Celia mentions that her father gave her a stern lecture about collaboration. Confused, Marco asks how Hector is able to communicate with her, and she explains that he is not really dead. Marco asks Celia if the wishes from the Wishing Tree come true, and she admits that she hasn’t tracked all of them. She asks if his wish came true, and he tells her that he doesn’t know yet.
Eager to continue sharing their experiences in the competition and the circus, Marco and Celia discuss their favorite tents, revealing that they have been collaborating without knowing it well before Mr. Barris created the Labyrinth for them. They have used each other’s tents as inspiration for their own, illustrating the fact that working together has made them better magicians. In addition, the topic of Marco’s wish comes up again because, like Isobel, Celia is curious about what is going on inside his head.
Celia asks Marco how he keeps everyone from aging, and he asks her how she moves the circus. Celia explains that the circus moves on a magic train. Marco gives Celia a hand to help her up, and the entire room shakes with the energy between them. They are both out of breath, and instead of touching her again, Marco opens the door and leads her out of the room. As they return to the ballroom, Celia asks how Chandresh is, and Marco tells her that he has been increasingly unfocused, and Marco tries to help him, but it affects his memory.
Celia and Marco share nearly all of their secrets with one another, reinforcing the collaborative spirit that their teachers so strongly condemn. They can hardly touch one another, however, without causing the room to shake with their energy, and this only augments the tension between them, feeding their desire to be close to one another. As they leave, Celia returns the conversation to the circus.
Marco wishes he could protect the people outside the circus, like the late Tara Burgess, the way the bonfire protects the performers. Celia did not realize that the bonfire was protective, and admits that she neglected to consider safeguards at all. She did not realize how many people would become part of the challenge, and be affected by it. Marco reaches out for Celia’s hand again, but this time he is focusing their energy together so that they will not break anything. Celia enjoys the feeling, and they stand in silence for what seems like hours. The clock interrupts their moment, and Celia tells Marco that she forgives him for stealing her shawl and leaves.
Celia and Marco are only now realizing that their competition affects everyone around them, and the fact that Celia neglected to even consider safeguards demonstrates how little they understood the competition when it began. However, unlike their teachers, Celia and Marco have developed a sense of empathy, and care about the safety and security of the circus performers and organizers.