Goodreads: Eyes Like Stars
Series: Theatre Illuminata #1
Beatrice Shakespeare Smith, Bertie to her friends, lives in a theatre surrounded by the actual characters from the world’s plays and musicals. She herself has no part to play, however, leading the manager to threaten her removal unless she can make herself indispensable to theatre operations. Unfortunately, finding a job proves uncommonly difficult when you’re trying to prevent Ariel, the spirit from Shakespeare’s Tempest, from escaping the theatre forever–and taking all the other characters with him.
Eyes Like Stars possesses a fantastic premise, placing an ordinary girl in a theatre where all the characters from the world’s plays and musicals can live and interact–when they’re called, at any rate. She spends her days playing with the fairies from A Midsummer Night’s Dream, flirting with a pirate, and trying to avoid the strangely seductive Ariel. It seems a play lover’s dream come true, a treasure trove of delight for any Shakespeare fan. And it could be, if only the premise made more sense.
The characters, readers learn, generally cannot come into our world until a notice with their names are placed on the call board. Some characters have more power or agency and can come and go as they please. The fairies and Ariel number among these. Even they, however, cannot leave the confines of the theatre unless the pages with their dialogue are ripped from the Book. The all-powerful Book that is kept on stage at all time so anyone can easily access it.
Well, Ariel, for one does not like being trapped in a theatre for his entire existence, so he obviously steals the book and begins to free all the characters. Some of them are overjoyed and some scared–they have never known anything but the theatre, after all. Bertie’s mission in this book immediately changes from trying to find a job in the theatre so she can stay to making sure all the characters never leave. But why?
The story never explains what will happen to the characters if they leave. Will their works perish? Will others be able to change their stories so the original scripts are lost? Will the characters eventually fade away in the real world? Will something terrible happen? No one ever explains what will happen, so that makes Bertie’s frantic quest to gather the characters (or re-enslave them, as Ariel would say) lack both urgency and sense. All we ever know is that the theatre will close without the plays (I guess they’re too cheap to hire actors–they just want the characters to keep working free) and that Bertie likes living in the theatre so she doesn’t want it to close. So basically she’s trapping a bunch of characters against their will because she doesn’t want to find a new home. Are we supposed to support her or feel outraged? The story gives no clues.
Another aspect of the plot involves the strange love triangle involving Bertie, the pirate Nathan (who says he’s too old for her and calls her “lass”, but makes out with her, anyway) and the spirit Ariel (who is painted as evil merely because he wants to leave the theatre, but he’s good-looking, so Bertie makes out with him, too). This is probably the first love triangle I’ve read where I thought both options were bad, really bad. You have a pirate who’s apparently way too old for the protagonist or the spirit who uses the protagonist to achieve his own ends. There is no happy ending in sight.
Fortunately, the portrayals of various famous characters proved interesting enough to keep me engaged in the story despite the faulty premise and the disturbing romance. I loved seeing Hamlet try to escape so he could go to a bar, watching Gertrude fret about her costumes, seeing Petruchio try to escape his shrewish Kate. Lisa Mantchev clearly loves Shakespeare, but she’s also comfortable having fun with his work.
I don’t know yet whether I will read the sequel. I don’t care too much about Bertie’s quest and I don’t want to see how that love triangle plays out (badly, I imagine). However I still really want to know why the theatre has a magic book and what happens if the characters get free. I just wonder, since the first installment of the series is the most logical place to put that information, whether the sequels touch upon it at all. If they don’t, I don’t want to feel I’ve wasted my time.