Eyes Like Stars by Lisa Mantchev

Is this not a lovely cover? It made me want to read it. Who is this blue-haired girl, standing at a stage entrance, with fairies circling around her? I wanted to know her story. I’ve been eying this book for a while, saw a couple of good reviews, and I finally bought a copy a few months ago.

The Premise:
Beatrice (Bertie) Shakespeare Smith is a young woman who grew up in a the Théâtre Illuminata. It is an enchanted theater: within it’s walls live every character from from every play ever written, and magically they are bound there, putting on their plays. Bertie sleeps on stage in a makeshift bed, her best friends are fairies (Peaseblossom, Mustardseed, Cobweb and Moth), and her family are the players and Managers of different departments. The problem is that Bertie is getting older, and she gets into a lot of trouble. After the latest debacle (involving a cannon), the irate Theater Manager decides that Bertie must Leave At Once. Bertie is desperate to stay and manages to convince the Manager that if she can prove herself useful, she won’t be thrown out into the street. Bertie’s friends the fairies and pirate Nate are helping, but elemental spirit Ariel wants her to escape and take him with her. In the meantime, the mystery of Bertie’s origins color the pot.

Read an excerpt of Eyes Like Stars here

My Thoughts: You know what this book reminds me of? One of those Disney cartoon movies. Bertie is a plucky orphan heroine, her fairies are the cute sidekicks (and comic relief), and Ariel and Nate are the handsome love interests.  To tell you who the villains are would give too much away, but they are worthy of Ursula and Frollo. This is not necessarily a bad thing. It means the book is entertaining and colorful, and there’s a lot of creativity, but it’s lighthearted fare made for a certain audience and not everyone may be in the mood for that. I have to be in a certain frame of mind for this kind of story I think, and so it took me a little while to read it all. It’s a fast read, but I read it in two spurts – the first half a month ago, and the second half this weekend.

One large facet of the humor in this book is knowledge of theater and of Shakespeare’s plays. I’m no theater geek but I know enough to pick up on some of the humor, although I suspect I may be missing some. When I get it, it’s amusing, so I think that a Theater/English buff will probably have fun with this book. One example that I loved is this (to set it up, Bertie’s fairy friends have smeared raspberry jelly all over the theater’s refreshment table):

“…pointed at MacBeth, who was holding up a cruller and muttering, “Is this a doughnut I see before me?”
Then he noticed the raspberry jam on everything and started to shriek. With a glare at the fairies, the Stage Manager bundled him off into the wings. ”

The love triangle in this book is one between Bertie,  Nate, a pirate who always looks out for her best interests (the good guy), and Ariel, a dark elemental spirit (the bad boy). Bertie is aware of both men physically, and she has a past with both of them (Ariel is more of a childhood favorite than a current one, while Nate is one of her best friends), but it seemed like Bertie treated the relationships with them as afterthoughts. It felt like she liked them for what they represented rather than for their own personal merits, but maybe this is because because the characters are sketched quickly and then didn’t grow past the first impression I had of them. There was more relationship development between Bertie and female supporting characters – Peaseblossom, Ophelia, and the Wardrobe Mistress, than there was between Bertie and her suitors.

The two things that dovetail to create the majority of the story in Eyes Like Stars are the Bertie’s adventures in trying to stay at the Théâtre, and the mystery of how she got there in the first place. The missteps that Bertie makes in trying to stay never seem to end, and much of the story is Bertie trying to keep on top of the latest disaster. At the same time that Bertie’s past comes to the surface. It’s mixed up in how the magic of the Théâtre works, which Bertie’s leaving brings up. The questions of Bertie’s past along with the magic of the Théâtre are world building elements that set up the start of a series. We don’t really get all the answers we want which leaves plenty of room for the next book, Perchance to Dream.

Overall: It’s a cute story, and good if you just want something entertaining (I think a theater and English background would help to enjoy the humor in the story), and not really dark (there are some low moments, but I felt detached from them). I found this above average for it’s original setting and premise, but the story itself didn’t truly grip me. You also may need some patience at the beginning when you’re thrown into life in the magical Théâtre Illuminata without knowing its rules.

Buy: Amazon | Powells | The Book Depository

Other reviews:
Dreams and Speculation – 9 out of 10
Angieville – mixed review (I share her sentiments – again)
Karissa’s Reading Review – 4 out of 5 stars
The Hiding Spot – 10 out of 10
Fantasy Book Critic – one of their top books for 2009
On the Nightstand – loved it
Fantastic Book Review – 5 out of 5
The Book Smugglers – 8 out of 10
Presenting Lenore – “it’s not enough to propel me into a standing ovation, but it does earn a round of appreciative applause nonetheless”
Steph Su Reads – 4.5 out of 5
Giraffe Days – “With a playful tone, it’s fun to read, but I did sometimes get confused about what was happening”
Calico_reaction – Must have (positive review)

The trailer for Perchance to Dream:

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5 thoughts on “Eyes Like Stars by Lisa Mantchev

  1. Disney – YES! Now that you’ve said it, I can totally see it!

    I reviewed it as an ARC a couple of years ago (review here) and liked it, it is cute. Sadly, I don’t have the cover, just a peachy-salmony paper one.

    • OK, edited my post so your review is listed!

      Yes, I think it would translate VERY well into a Disney movie! It would look very very pretty.

  2. Lol. Yup. Very pretty. Shame it didn’t hold up quite as well as I’d hoped. I agree with your assessment completely. Those important characters were just sketched out. No depth. Unsurprisingly, I was fond of Ariel, but there just wasn’t enough there for me to go on.

    • Surprisingly I kind of liked Ariel more than Nate in the beginning (Nate seemed a bit boring), then Nate sort of grew on me for his loyalty. And then his angry commanding of her kind of turned me off.

      Ariel was promising until I decided that Bertie didn’t deserve him because first she’s very mean to him (ok he did a bunch of bad things but he wanted to be free) and then when he still came back to her (??why, I have no idea), she was secretly thrilled at the power.. which I didn’t like. Do you like him or do you like that you’re the only one who has “tamed” him? *making face of disapproval*.

  3. Some of what you mention with Bertie and her relationship to Ariel and Nate is gone over a bit more in Perchance to Dream. At least, I thought so.

    I agree with you on the story, though. The other characters (especially the stage itself) and setting combined make up the charm that propels the story toward something entirely different than it would have been otherwise.

    I really enjoyed both this and the sequel. 🙂

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