I’ve been putting off reviewing Eyes Like Stars from the Théâtre Illuminata series by Lisa Mantchev because my feelings are somewhat contradictory. However, if I put if off much longer, I won’t remember the details.
Beatrice (Bertie) Shakespeare Smith lives in the Théâtre Illuminata where she assists the theater manager in putting on plays. However, this isn’t any regular theater, the players are magical, called from the world of words—the Book, which contains all the plays—where they were created. Once a casting call goes out, the original characters from the plays—Ophelia from Hamlet, Jean Valjean from Les Miserables, and Wendy from Peter Pan (among others)—pop into being to play their rolls. But there are rules. First and foremost, these players cannot leave the theater. Secondly, they only exist long enough to play their rolls before going back into hibernation. Thirdly, they aren’t allowed to interact with Bertie. But Bertie isn’t exactly what she seems and some of the players are becoming a little too real. Maybe they don’t want to stay in the theater any longer; maybe there’s more to life than the same set of lines. Bertie and her player friends face a world of danger as they search for the elusive more.
The idea for this book is interesting. The execution isn’t so bad either, but there were a few things that annoyed me…
Bertie loves the theater; it’s been her home for as long as she can remember. She doesn’t know who her parents are, but who cares when she has the entire theater and the players to be her family? So she might accidentally have caused a few minor (or major) disasters, but she’s trying. She’s young, so I get her somewhat immature feelings, but she’s a bit too flaky and unsettled. I find it hard to believe that a teenager doesn’t want to leave the theater at all and never goes outside. It’s a bit eerie, really.
Nate is a minor character from The Little Mermaid play, but Bertie has a thing for him. And what’s not to love? He’s got that strong, protective thing going on. I love Nate because he’s a minor character, but you get the impression he’s going to be a bigger part of the story than he is. Suddenly he’s not and that’s annoying considering the development put into him.
Ariel, the spirit from Shakespeare’s The Tempest, was once Bertie’s best friend as a child. He’s a free creature who yearns to leave the theater, and such a desire results in near disaster for them all. This character makes more sense than Bertie. Except for the romantic attachment to Bertie. I mean, he played with her (as an adult) when she was a toddler. How could he see her any romantic way especially when he’s been in the theater far longer than she’s been alive? On the other hand, this is the same thing that annoys me about the Twilight series: Why would somebody who’s seen decades and decades of life find an angsty teenager so compelling? It boggles the mind.
Ophelia is depressed, which makes sense considering that she committed suicide in Hamlet. But she’s also been a friend and comfort to Bertie and has had some strange adventure of her own. She’s another minor character that has a bigger role in the story than you’d think. I do like how so many minor characters are major ones in this book (because aren’t we all major characters in our own stories?).
This was my real issue with the book. I might be able to look beyond some of the inconsistencies in the characters because often times real people can seem inconsistent, but a flawed plot really annoys me. On the surface, the story looks good, but the problem is the two competing storylines. Typically in a book, especially a series, you get the main storyline for that book and then a lesser emphasized larger storyline for the series. But here you get two (Bertie in the theater and the pages in the Book)—and really almost three if you count the Nate thing separately (and you think that will get resolved soon because of his character development)—and it feels like too much was shoved into one book. Or rather, not enough attention was given to either storyline so you feel less invested in the conclusion. In fact, you start to wonder why one storyline was even there. The two plots are finally somewhat connected at the end, but that felt too forced. Meanwhile, Bertie’s not a strong enough character to hold the plots by herself or without some serious fleshing out.
Okay, this also disappointed me because with a title such as Eyes Like Stars, you expect the writing to be as poetic. But it wasn’t. It would be more appropriate in a regular YA fiction than a YA fantasy with elements of the mysterious. But then, that’s just me. I suppose I was spoiled by Katherine Arden and Renee Ahdieh. However, the writing was very funny in parts with some clever dialogue:
“She’s under duress,” Peaseblossom said.
“I don’t care if she’s under duress, over it, or alongside it,” Moth said. “Nothing in this world supersedes cake.”
Honestly? I’m still trying to figure out if I want to finish reading this trilogy. I hate leaving a series unread. It’s part of my OCD. On the other hand, there are so many awesome books out there, that reading anything less than spectacular seems a waste of time. On the other hand (yes, like a three-armed octopus), this book has some wicked awesome dialogue and an incredibly unique idea behind it, so…if you don’t mind a strained plot and a mediocre main character, then go for it.
And I’m still not sure that rating’s right.