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Eyes Like Stars by Lisa Mantchev

I know, I know. It's still Brush Up Your Shakespeare Month until next Wednesday. And this book review is not about something written by the Bard. But really, Lisa Mantchev's forthcoming book - due out July 7th - is the perfect sort of non-Shakespeare book to talk about during Brush Up Your Shakespeare Month. Here's why:

1. The main character's name is Beatrice Shakespeare Smith. Beatrice as in Much Ado About Nothing. Shakespeare as in, well, duh.

2. Beatrice Shakespeare Smith, nicknamed Bertie, lives inside a theatre. The Théâtre Illuminata, to be precise, a place that manages to house all the plays ever written, complete with sets, casts, and costumes. There are a lot of Shakespearean characters around. A lot.

3. Bertie's near-constant companions are four fairies from A Midsummer Night's Dream: Cobweb, Moth, Mustard Seed and Peaseblossom.

4. One of the handsome young males with whom Bertie occasionally keeps company (in a PG-13 sort of way, folks - minds out of the gutters!) is Ariel, the spirit of the air who is the servant of Prospero in Shakespeare's The Tempest.

5. The title, Eyes Like Stars comes from the text of Hamlet, Act I, scene 5. It comes from these lines, spoken by Hamlet's father's ghost:
But that I am forbid
To tell the secrets of my prison-house,
I could a tale unfold whose lightest word
Would harrow up thy soul, freeze thy young blood,
Make thy two eyes, like stars, start from their spheres,
Thy knotted and combined locks to part
And each particular hair to stand on end,
Like quills upon the fretful porpentine.

6. The character of Hamlet plays a minor role in the story, but Ophelia appears quite often - and not only when there's water in which to drown herself.

7. Some of the chapter titles are Shakespearean references. For example, Chapter Eleven is entitled "Chaos is Come Again", from Othello. Chapter Fifteen is "Ill Met by Moonlight", a phrase from the witches in Macbeth. "Once More Unto the Breach" (Henry V), "Toil and Trouble" and "But a Walking Shadow"(Macbeth again), "I Could a Tale Unfold" (Hamlet) and more. (I'm just highlighting the ones from the plays I've talked about during Brush Up Your Shakespeare Month, the agenda for which I set in May, before I received the ARC of Lisa's book - coincidence is a funny, funny thing.)

8. During one stage call, the Merry Wives of Windsor end up arguing with the Two Gentlemen of Verona, Julius Caesar and Marc Antony end up poking at one another with swords, and the Montagues and Capulets rumble, Sharks- & Jets- like, in the orchestra pit. And Lady Macbeth and Gertrude try to out-diva one another at one point, too.

9. Did I mention that there may or may not be a production of Hamlet featured in the book?

10. The sequel, Perchance to Dream, also takes its title from Hamlet, Act III, scene 1, from Hamlet's famous "To be or not to be" soliloquy.

Now that I've established WHY this book is so perfect to talk about, I'm going to say very little about it indeed, because I expect you're all going to want to read it on your own. I certainly won't provide any spoilers here. What I will say is that I have a soft spot for books set in theaters that reference Shakespeare(remember my review of Wondrous Strange by Lesley Livingston, which, incidentally, takes its title from Hamlet, Act I, scene 5, the same scene from which Eyes Like Stars gets its title). And books with feisty female main characters. And I tend to love orphans. And books that contain romance and magic. So I was predisposed to like this book, I suppose, since it's got all that going for it and more.

I loved feisty, somewhat misguided or at-sea Bertie, who sometimes tries to figure out her life before she came to the Théâtre; you see, unlike the characters, all of whom belong to their respective plays, or the adults who work there in official capacities - the Theatre Manager, Stage Manager (GRRR!), and the specialists - Mrs. Edith the Wardrobe Mistress, Mr. Hastings the Properties Manager and Mr. Tibbs the Scenic Manager, Bertie has no official role in the Théâtre: she was a foundling, taken in and raised there. That is her story (as far as she knows at the start of the book), and everyone's sticking to it, savvy? Bertie lives in a set on the stage, eats in the Green Room (which magically provides food), and turns to Mrs. Edith for nurturing. The Stage Manager has it in for her, and doesn't like it when Bertie orders a set change, say, or fires a cannon.

I loved Bertie's fairy friends, who are hilariously inappropriate at times, like the scene in which Moth confesses that he's "going commando" because he forgot to turn his laundry in to the Wardrobe Mistress (Mrs. Edith), and Cobweb, well, here:

"Aw, man! I want to go commando, too!" Cobweb said as he reached for his trouser buttons.

"Keep your pants on."

I loved Nate, the pirate from The Little Mermaid, of whom Bertie is fond. He's quite honorable, and he works hard to protect Bertie in a number of ways. There is one pretty steamy scene involving him (pun intended for those lucky enough to have read it), and a couple more that are very swoon-worthy.

I was intrigued by Ariel, the air spirit, who dances a mean tango, and who is not all that he appears to be. He's trouble, he's dead sexy, but I suppose he's just a bit too much air for my taste (I'm a fire sign, so I chalk it up to that). Still, I can't wait to see what happens with him in Perchance to Dream and the third and final book of the trilogy.

I appreciated Lisa's use of language - lots of lovely, complicated words like "indefatigable", and "flamboyant" and "pandemonium" and "miscreants" and "badinage and persiflage" (a phrase I've repeated to myself more than once since reading the book) and more. I liked the incorporation of theater terms and titles, the reference to a variety of plays, including Les Miserables and Man of La Mancha and more.

While I can't tell you all that much about the plot without worrying about spoilers, I can say that Bertie's place in the Théâtre is threatened, and she needs to do something to justify her staying there. What she comes up with as an idea is good; what she ends up doing is better (and far worse), but truly, that's all I feel I can say about it.

One of the only points that puzzled me about the play is the reference to patrons arriving by carriage. It was at that point that I realized I have precisely no clue when or where the book is set, since we're within theater walls throughout. There's a headset for set changes, so I had supposed it was set in contemporary times, but in a magical theater. These things happen, after all. A later reference indicates that patrons arrive to the Théâtre by carriages and limousines, so I suppose it could be modern. Many of the patrons have exotic titles, so then I wondered if I was in Europe, or somewhere in the U.S. Nobody ever said, really, so in my head I was in New York City, but perhaps I'm not supposed to be. I rather suppose I must be going find some of those answers in the later books, but we shall see. At least, I'll find out more about Bertie and where she came from and where she's going. And more about Ariel and Nate, too, I warrant. I'd say I can't wait, but with Perchance to Dream scheduled for Fall of 2010, I'll have to.

But I can purchase a copy of the actual Eyes Like Stars in stores soon. And so can - and should - you.

Kiva - loans that change lives

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( 18 comments — Leave a comment )
Jun. 25th, 2009 05:43 am (UTC)
I'm going to look for this one. Sounds like my kind of book.
Jun. 25th, 2009 06:16 am (UTC)
oooooh like your icon
Jun. 25th, 2009 01:10 pm (UTC)
I think it is right up your alley. Just be sure to give it three chapters to decide!
Jun. 25th, 2009 06:15 am (UTC)
i 'spose we could ASK her when/where it is set, but that may take some of the fun out of it. =)

when i first heard her concept i was intrigued--what fun to do something so creative and new! great post, lady!
Jun. 25th, 2009 01:11 pm (UTC)
Yeah, I'm not resentful of the fact that I can't tell precisely when/where it's set. I'm interested to find out, though!
Jun. 25th, 2009 11:15 am (UTC)
Tanita Says :
Huh. So Bertie isn't a sprite. Wonder how she sees them? Wonder... oh, so many things. Intrigued, intrigued.
Jun. 25th, 2009 01:12 pm (UTC)
Re: Tanita Says :
I cannot say for certain that Bertie isn't a sprite, or something else magical. I can't say that she IS, either. And I'm not holding out on you - I just don't know yet!
Jun. 25th, 2009 12:50 pm (UTC)
I've been waiting for this one for a while now. I am even more excited (were that possible) now.
Jun. 25th, 2009 01:13 pm (UTC)
I was beyond thrilled to get the ARC so I could review it this month. I still need the book, though, because I must have that beautiful cover!
(Deleted comment)
Jun. 25th, 2009 04:40 pm (UTC)
That'd be awesome. I'd happily discuss it off-blog now. *hint hint**
Jun. 25th, 2009 08:29 pm (UTC)
July 7th? Great! This sounds like one both my daughter and I would like--those are hard to find!
Jun. 25th, 2009 09:42 pm (UTC)
It's really good - it doesn't take off in chapter one (which is okay with me), but shortly after that it's completely riveting.
Jun. 26th, 2009 03:30 am (UTC)
This is the summer book that I am very most excited about! It has such a fantastic, unique premise, and the cover is so gorgeous, and I can't resist the lure of theatre geek in-jokes...I can't wait! But maybe in the meantime I should check out Wondrous Strange...

Jun. 26th, 2009 04:06 am (UTC)
I really and truly loved Wondrous Strange for its blend of theatre, Shakespeare references and Arthurian legend. M, who is not particularly well-versed in Arthurian legend, confessed to having a difficult time following it. I think that if she'd read Susan Cooper's The Dark is Rising sequence with its emphasis on Arthurian legends like the Great Hunt, she'd have had an easier go. That said, I adored it.
Jun. 26th, 2009 01:23 pm (UTC)
Oh, neat! Can you post a reminder about this on the 7th?
Jun. 26th, 2009 05:04 pm (UTC)
I'll try to remember!
Jun. 27th, 2009 02:00 am (UTC)
This sounds wonderful. Off to put it on my list.
Jun. 27th, 2009 02:08 am (UTC)
I think you'll like it.
( 18 comments — Leave a comment )

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