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Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Eyes Like Stars: Théâtre Illuminata, Act I

Title: Eyes Like Stars: Théâtre Illuminata, Act I
Author: Lisa Mantchev
Reviewed Format: hardcover
Release Date: July 7, 2009
Pages: 368

If you had the chance to leave the only home you’ve ever known, would you do it? That’s the dilemma Beatrice Shakespeare Smith, or Bertie as she’s known to the denizens of the Théâtre Illuminata, faces. Bertie doesn’t know who her parents are or why she was left at the theater’s doorstep and, as part of a ritual half comfort, half quest she’s constantly writing the script of her own life. To give herself a history, she imagines a bittersweet romance between a famous actress and an ordinary, lovestruck fellow, a magical caravan, and a mysterious Mistress of Revels. The particulars are always foggy, but in the story of How Bertie Came to the Theater, Bertie is always wistful, always searching for the right combination of lines and directions to point her toward the truth: who were her parents? Why did they abandon her? Where did she come from?

Bertie is far from lonely. She’s been living inside the magical Théâtre Illuminata, home to The Book, which holds the complete works of every stage play ever. It also holds the power to summon any stage character or cast imaginable for weekly performances of beloved plays that helps keep the theater thriving. Surrounded by four mischievous fairies and a colorful array of characters, Bertie’s made quite a home for herself. She’s also learned, like any teenager, the fine art of getting into trouble. This time, the theater manager’s finally fed up. Faced with being cast out, Bertie is given an ultimatum: if she can think of a way to make herself indispensable to the theater, she can stay.

Despite the not-so-subtle manipulations of Ariel (from The Tempest), Bertie isn’t eager to leave, even if it provides the opportunity she needs to find her parents. She’s determined to stay--as if lost and doing what every child is told to do when they don’t know where they are: stay put and eventually you’ll be found. With the help of her fairy friends, Nate (a dashing pirate from The Little Mermaid and my favorite character, aside from Peaseblossom), and the production managers, Bertie’s devised a plan that she’s sure will change the theater and stage manager’s minds.

Eyes Like Stars is whimsical mix of script and novel, juxtaposing imaginative backdrops and familiar characters against Bertie’s reality. The result is an explosion of coffee, pastries, glitter, beautiful costumes, and clashing personalities. Characters from different plays (albeit, Shakespeare’s are favored) meet and interact in unexpected, humorous ways. The stage is a personality itself, almost stealing the show with multiple and quick scene and prop changes reminiscent of a magical Tim Burton fantasy.

There is a lot going on in this book. With so much distraction outside of the main plot, it’s no wonder Bertie’s plan went tangentially into a dance with Ariel that led to The Book disappearing, changing the direction of the novel. What started out as a quest to help Bertie stay at the theater became a hunt for The Book, but don’t be discouraged. Mantchev manages to entwine the chaos into a reasonable assembly of working cogs all moving toward the same end: the clock is ticking and just when Bertie thinks her goals are insurmountable and hopeless, she remembers the Théâtre Illuminata has one advantage that works in her favor: magic.

If the disparate elements of the narrative struggle to make sense to you, be patient! Like all good authors, Mantchev proves she has command of her story, answering most of our questions and leaving the more burning ones for the sequel.

I have to admit, I’m not a huge fan of Ariel The Romantic Interest as much as Ariel The Manipulative And Scheming Sprite. The chemistry between him and Bertie seemed born of his machinations and desires to be set free (typical Ariel!) and I can’t help wanting to disbelieve his disposition at the end. My heart goes to Nate, whom I desperately hope isn’t related to Bertie in any familial way. The two of them were adorable together, even if Mantchev held back in what I can only hope is out of respectful consideration and not foreshadowing. I’m still suspicious of Ariel, but will have to wait until next year for any answers. This was an overall cute and easy read I’d recommend to anyone who wants something fun and light.


Anonymous said...

Ehhh, despite the pretty cover, this one I'm going to skip. :/

Erika said...

@TJ I don't particular recommend this one for you. But the cover is what got me interested in the first place!

Lily Child said...

I have read a few good reviews on this one. I am waiting for it to come out on paperback before I pick it up. Lovely review as always! :)

Erika said...

@Lily Child Wise choice and thank you! I would have waited for the paperback if I'd known what it was going to read like beforehand.

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