Eyes Like Stars by Lisa Mantchev

by Sydnee Thompson

A Novel Journey?

Eyes Like Stars is a creative romp through the world of theater, bringing together ideas new and old to make a unique reading experience. The aptly named Beatrice “Bertie” Shakespeare Smith is the fourteen year old protagonist living at the Theatre Illuminata, where the characters of every play ever written live in the flesh. Bound to the theatre by the mysterious Book, they work together as a group, filling their roles to entertain the masses. And in between performances, they drink tea and have fake sword fights and destroy things. Sounds like my kind of party.

Lisa Mantchev obviously has an amazing grasp of her craft. The descriptions she weaves are vivid and poetic, making the book seem more like a…well, a Shakespearean play than a modern young adult novel. I couldn’t possibly record every moment I was in awe, but I’ll include a few:

Ariel scowled, a thwarted prince with twin storms in his eyes. His hair crackled with static electricity, a shower of sparks poured from his hands, and the lenses in the lights overhead exploded.

Bertie persisted, chasing his logic as though it were a golden thread disappearing down a bottomless black hole. She caught it in her hand, wrapped her desperate, silver hopes around the metallic filament, and clung to it like a lifeline.

Every other sound was amplified: the echo of her footsteps, the low whir of the fairies’ wings, the soft sound of Ariel’s breathing passing over his lips, until they reached a tiny door, tucked in a corner like an afterthought.

And yet, after the first fifty or so pages, the attention to imagery becomes a bit tiresome. Not everything needs to be described so vividly. Sometimes readers just want to bypass the menial details and get straight to the action. I’ll readily admit that I’m not the most cultured individual, so such effort is wasted on me because eventually, I’ll just think of it as unnecessary purple prose. I feel the same of the dramatic flare added to make it feel like an authentic theater performance, such as an ominous violin cue during the Stage Manager’s announcement and a specifically tailored chorus performance to Bertie afterward. The only play I ever sat through and enjoyed was “The Lion King” on Broadway. Theater as a rule makes me twitchy. The first word that always comes to mind is “cheesy”.

As an add-on to that last point, I don’t know a lick about technical theater details either, such as stage directions and equipment, and there’s a lot of that in there. I’m not fond of pulling out a dictionary every time I need to know a term, so I have to try to glimpse the meaning through context. Every once and awhile is fine, but over and over and I get annoyed.

The best aspect of the novel after the writing was the characters. I knew very little background information on the majority because, again, I don’t do plays, but that didn’t take away from the experience at all. The bardy pirate Nate is sweet with just the right dash of bad boy, Bertie is headstrong and intelligent, and her four faerie friends Peaseblossom, Mustardseed, Moth, and Cobweb are ridiculous, comedic, and weird in all the right places. Ariel, however, struck me as an arrogant jerk, so the love triangle between him, Bertie, and Nate didn’t fill realistic enough.

All in all, Eyes Like Stars is a stunning first effort for the author. My personal preference alone gives the story three stars out of five—the story just wasn’t able to captivate me. For those theater and musical buffs out there, however, I definitely think this is worth a try.

Sydnee is a freshman at Wayne State University pursuing a degree in Journalism. Her hobbies include painting and taking long afternoon naps. She is obsessed with hunky heroes, explosions, melodrama, and magic—all things that make a frequent appearance in her stories.

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