Eyes Like Stars threw me a serious curveball. Premise, cover, advance reviews, everything was working together for a really! exciting! experience! But when I sat down with the actual novel, it was much different than what I’d been expecting.
Welcome to the Theatre Illuminata, where the characters of every play ever written can be found behind the curtain. They were born to play their parts, and are bound to the Theatre by The Book—an ancient and magical tome of scripts. Bertie is not one of them, but they are her family—and she is about to lose them all and the only home she has ever known.
The setting is delicious: a stage that performs scene changes on command. Hungry? Cue French Patisserie, complete with “the intoxicating scents of buttery pastry and café lattes,” “tarts decorated with whirls of sliced apple,” and “croissants oozing chocolate from their middles.” Bored? Cue The Little Mermaid, and watch “seaweed hit the stage with wet thumps, sand [gather] in drifts, and saltwater [mist] the floor” as the “massive prow of the Persephone” soars out of the mist, swarming with friendly pirates. Or turn around and chat with Midsummer’s fairies hovering at your shoulder.
The cast is vast and varied: characters from every play imaginable, though heavily favoring Shakespearean drama—Ophelia, Ariel, Lady Macbeth, chorus girls, revolutionaries, buccaneers—as well as crew—Stage Manager, Wardrobe Mistress, Properties Manager. But there is a downside to the large cast. At times, you feel inundated with names and faces.
Since Eyes Like Stars is about life on the stage, it makes sense—in theory—for some of the text to be script, complete with stage directions. There were times, however, when small flashbacks felt bouncy because they were told in this folio form.
One thing that contributed to my overall perplexity was the grade school humor. Granted, most of it came from the fairies, who are typical immature boys. But in my mind, the silly jokes bumped against the novel’s YA romance and language (and I’m not talking about the Shakespearean insults).
But there is good humor, too. “A plan! We need a plan!” said Cobweb. “Vive la Revolution!” cried Moth and Mustardseed as they jumped to attention. Bertie held up both her hands. “If either of you start singing something from Les Mis, I’ll drop-kick you into next week.”
There is Ophelia drowning herself in every available set, Lady Macbeth and Gertrude fighting for center stage, chorus boys stealing Alice’s hookah from the properties department and opening a bubbly bar in one of the back dressing rooms.
Because Eyes Like Stars is the first of a trilogy, there is a lot left hanging at the end of the novel. Perhaps that also contributed to my curveball reaction, since I opened the book expecting to close it satisfied, and instead, Ms. Mantchev raised more questions than she answered.
But all in all, the story was entertaining, and sometimes, especially in the summer, you need a story intent on entertainment.