What a jumbled mess. A very pretty jumbled mess... but a jumbled mess all the same.
Mantchev's "Eyes Like Stars" is the story of a teenage orphan named Bertie who has been raised in a magically theater where the characters from every play ever written live and interact with her on a daily basis. However, Bertie is known for her mischevious streak and eventually she gets herself in trouble to the point where she is threatened to leave the theater forever unless she can do something to prove her worth to the theater.
There are basically three plots going on in this story: 1) Bertie trying to prove herself worthwhile to the theater so she can stay, 2) Bertie trying to discover her past and the identity of her parents, and 3) A love triangle between Bertie, a pirate named Nate and the air spirit, Ariel, from The Tempest.
Here's the thing about this book... it has all the aesthetics I love; Whimsical tone, a magical theater, Shakespeare, a fiesty main character who reminds me very much of one of my RPG characters, and an alluring air spirit. The imagery was beautiful and so very creative. All very much my cup of tea. However these components just weren't constructed together very well.
While it's bubbling over with imagniation and fantasic, whimisical ideas and imagery, Mantchev fails to effectively weave all the elements together into any cohesive form. She overwrites her description with beautiful flowing exposition yet in that actually fails to communicate what anything actually looks like. Instead we are only given a vague feeling rather than an actual description of the theater. It definately gives a very dream like quality to the story, which I believe she must have been trying to accomplish, but in doing so she really doesn't help pull the reader into the world. She takes for granted that while she may be able to see it all in her head, we cannot and it is her duty to effectively set the stage (pun intended).
Other problems are that the scene shifts (literal and figurative ones) and transitions are far too jumpy, abrupt and jumbled for us to understand what's going on. The movement and pace of the story is very jerky. There is also a number of instances of Telling when Showing should be in place. This is another problem with her overwriting everything in flowing, poetic prose. It's also very clear the author is a BPAL fan because all her scent descriptions seem to be lifted right out of BPAL perfume oils scent descriptions. It's effective, but again she focuses too much on these ephemeral aspects rather than actually getting down and dirty to make necessary cuts and polishing to make the story clear and flow.
Then we have the problem with the characters themselves. The characters motivations are unclear and all over the place. First she hates Ariel, then she loves Ariel, then she hates him again. With no explaination. I get that she's a teenager and that teens are very hormonal and unpredicatable with their emotions, but we're never in her head enough to really know exactly why she feels this way and what causes that transition to occur so rapidly back and forth. Plus, why was everyone trying to keep her and Ariel apart? That's never explained. Bertie just comes off as very spoiled, childish, aloof and inconsistent for her to be truly likeable. Which is the shame because I want to like her, but the way she is written as is, she doesn't make me care about her or her plight. It's possible to make a character like that likeable, but there needs to me some awareness happen on her part so growth can take place. I'm not seeing any growth by the end of the book. Futhermore, as I have seen another reviewer mention in their review - why does she vilify Ariel so much? Why is it so wrong to want to escape after living his life as a slave? I think her demonization of him is far too extreme.
The other thing I saw another reviewer say, which I agree with, is *SPOILER WARNING* in the final production and climax of the story, it's clearly intended to have been such a rousing performance that evokes a full house and standing ovation. Why? Weren't all these people coming to see Hamlet? Wouldn't you be upset if you came to see one play and another took place? Plus there was nothing about the "show" itself that made it seem like a really impacting performance. It was just alot of visual affects. As a student and parton of the theater, I can honestly say there was nothing outstanding about the performance that would have evoked that kind of reaction. She puts all the pretty imagery and face value emotions on the surface without delving underneath and bringing those aspects out for the reader to indulge in, both in the end performance and the book in general.
To be perfectly honest, I am amazed this got of the editor's desk like this. It is a rough draft at best. I love the idea. I love the tone. I love the aesthetics and imagery. But it is a mess. The only reason I kept reading was because I fell in love with Ariel. Other than that, it needs so much work. I understand that this is Mantchev's debut book, so I am hoping that she will have fixed alot of the mistakes in the next book. I am hoping it will be better than this one.