There are times that I read a story and think to myself:
"Wow, what wouldn't I give to be able to write like that?"
Rarely is the story something terribly fantastic with loads of characters and a new universe that has to be constructed from scratch. More often than not, what draws me in as a writer who has built a world that is complex and layered, and a universe that I really want to live within myself.
When I'm describing these books to my friends, I'm often a raving lunatic of a fan. Most recently I felt this way about The Night Circus and The Monsters of Templeton. They were two of my pseudo-summer reading books I took on various trips with me at the beginning of the season.
Morgenstern and Groff, the writers of these two books, present their readers with a world that is not too far off from their own. Morgenstern's is set in early twentieth-century England, Europe and America. Groff's is New England, America in the later half of the same century for the most part. There are historical markers in each that give them weight. The characters dress in clothing particular to the time. The landscapes are cities that readers are familiar with except for a town here or there that is too small to have made it into a geography survey they took in school. And the technologies the characters get to use are period appropriate.
But Morgenstern gives her characters magic. And Groff gives life to a Loch Nessian monster in a glacial lake in the Hudson River Valley.
Even the monster and the magic are described realistically, for all that they are not real.
At least not that I have ever seen proof of.
The detail that these writers give to their fantasy are what make them pop for me. Glimmie, which is what the people of Templeton begin calling their monster, is even rendered in a sketch at the end of the novel. It's a sketch that proves to be an inaccurate model of the actual monster as described, but again that discrepancy is reported with journalistic flare that has you returning to physical descriptions of the monster so you can actually get a solid mental picture of him/her.
The magic Morgenstern creates is based on a very real practice of slight of hand and illusion, but goes a step further until you are exploring the magical circus at the center of her book right alongside her characters and seeing the slender strings of magic that weave them all together.
Do these central, but singular, moments of fantasy, magic and mythical creatures mean I have to call these books science fiction/fantasy?