Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Review: Eyes Like Stars by Lisa Mantchev

Found via: Confessions of a Bibliovore

I will confess: 90% of the reason I picked up this book was because of the blue hair on the cover. We all know I have a weakness for colored hair (though blue seems to be the most popular color. I wonder why). Seriously, it's pretty sweet:
Eyes Like Stars by Lisa Mantchev cover

Beatrice Shakespeare Smith (aka Bertie) lives in the Theatre Illuminata, where all the characters from every play ever written reside. She has lived there for 17 years, since she was left at the theatre as an infant, the only non-fictional resident of the theatre. After irritating the powers that be one too many times, Bertie has to find a way to make herself invaluable to the theatre, or she'll be cast out. She proposes to direct a re-staging of Hamlet as set in ancient Egypt, an attempt to create the sort of performance that will fill the house and woo back wealthy donors, restoring the theatre to its former brilliance.

But nothing can be that straightforward, can it? The Stage Manager seems intent on sabotaging Bertie's plans and most of the Hamlet cast is rebelling against tampering with their show. Bertie's only ally in the production is Ophelia, who helps reign in the cast during her brief moments of clarity between suicide attempts. Also making life difficult for Bertie is Ariel (of The Tempest), who desperately wants to escape the theatre entirely, but is bound by the Book - the large tome that collects the first appearance of every character in every play ever written. Ariel thinks that if he can tear his entrance out of the book, he'll be free, and wants Bertie's help in planning his escape.

On Bertie's side are the fairies from A Midsummer Night's Dream and Logan, a pirate from The Little Mermaid, who encourage Bertie through her trials with Hamlet and avoiding Ariel. Ariel seems to think he and Bertie have a bit of a thing going on, but Bertie only has eyes for Logan...and staying in the theatre, of course.

First of all, I have to say I love the Shakespearean characters throughout this story. Ophelia is funny and tragic - any time there's water around she appears to try and kill herself again, but occasionally graces us with moments of lucidity that make it clear she's more than just a crazy, love-lorn girl. The fairies are all hilarious as the squabble amongst themselves and more often than not get Bertie into trouble (though Bertie can be a troublemaker all on her own). It's also great to see a character other than Puck take on the trickster role. The character of Logan stuck out, because he's the only named, non-Shakespearean character that lives in the theatre. When plays are listed, it's like 'Shakespeare, Shakespeare, Shakespeare...The Little Mermaid?!' It seems like a random addition, especially since it's not like there's a definitive stage version of The Little Mermaid. If a pirate character was necessary, why not say he's an extra from Peter Pan, since that was originally a play. Or name drop a few other characters from plays,go back to the Greek tragedies if you're looking for things that are exclusively public domain if necessary, just so Logan doesn't stick out so much.

The logistics of the theatre didn't quite work out for me - at first I thought this theatre was firmly located in the world of imagination (because really? Every character ever written for the stage is here? And can be summoned just by posting a notice on the Call Board?). But then Bertie is originally from the world outside of the theatre, and then real-world patrons show up for performances, which then leads me to question things like how would the playbill credit the performers, if Hamlet is truly played by Hamlet? But if you don't think about it too hard about that point, it's a fun adventure story with lots of humor, and a sequel on the way in May! I won't be rushing out to pick up the sequel on day one, but if I see a lot of positive buzz about it, I'll probably get around to it eventually.
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