Imagine a foundling has been left on the steps of a fantastical theatre. A theatre so magical that every character invented for the stage exists in a world of their own making. A world in which the foundling, Beatrice Shakespeare Smith (Bertie), has been raised.
Lisa Mantchev revels in the drama and theatrics of the stage. A professor of English and an actress, she has infused Bertie’s story with a mischievousness and frivolity that exists in a theatre where make believe becomes a reality. Bertie was raised by naughty faeries, a drippy Ophelia, swashbuckling pirates and dastardly air spirits but has no knowledge of from where she came. While the theatre may be a dream come true for the reader, for the players it is a prison from which they are unable to escape.
Bertie could be the solution.
Except Bertie’s hijinks and tomfoolery have resulted in an ultimatum – become useful or leave the only home she has ever known. What results is the most problematic retelling of Hamlet that one can imagine – a surly Hamlet, an Egyptian setting and the “help” of four trouble making faeries. Mantchev knows Shakespeare well, it breathes through every page with humour and grace, spinning familiar characters into new ways. Her take on Hamlet and Ophelia is particularly amusing as she dwells on their individuals personality quirks to a chortle worthy degree.
Eyes Like Stars is an immensely clever novel that spring boards off our knowledge of the stage to propel Bertie’s journey. There are many aspects of this story that could overwhelm – Bertie’s origin and parentage are a mystery that needs to be unraveled, her feelings for Nate (a pirate) and Ariel (a sea spirit) are messy, but grounded and the various, complex relationships between different players. The dialogue itself draws heavily upon that of Shakespeare. Mantchev has a loose, loving hold of language and the faeries give her a mouthpiece that is enormously fun. The sense of playfulness and the respect for playwrights is supreme and results in a novel that is unlike any other.
Eyes Like Stars was published in 2009 and is the first title in the Theatre Illuminata trilogy.