I read "The Night Circus" by Erin Morgenstern, published in 2011, and found it a bit of a disappointment. Morgenstern sets out to create a world that not only includes magic but is "magical" even in its real aspects. But just asserting that something -- a circus, say -- is magical doesn't make it so. You have to create a world that the reader believes he can enter into, and look around, and see amazing things there. This is what J.K. Rowling achieved with the Harry Potter books -- when Harry zooms around on his broom with a dragon chasing him, you the reader feel your heart racing.
Those thrills are hard to find in "The Night Circus." I wanted to like the book, and I will say that the overall conception of the plot -- a sort of battle between sorcerers' apprentices -- and the setting are promising. But the book only delivers in moments and with certain characters -- the two old sorcerers, especially -- who contain a bit of darkness and a hard-ish edge. But even one of them disappoints in the end, when in a high-stakes negotiation he's willing to settle for "a story" as payment. It's a shaggy dog moment that smacks of desperation.
"The Night Circus" is like one of the rewritten fairy tales that has taken out the good bits and pasted on a happy ending. Little Red Riding Hood doesn't get eaten by the wolf, as she should, the woodsman shows up at the last minute to save her. In "The Night Circus," the happy ending is even more contrived and unsatisfying, but it fits, unfortunately, with the overall lack of rigor and coherence of the tale.