Author: Lisa Mantchev
Publisher: Feiwel and Friends (Macmillan)
Genre: YA Fantasy
The tagline of this book is "All her world's a stage." Beatrice Shakespeare Smith actually lives on a stage. In the Theatre Illuminata, the Players are not mere mortals who act the parts written by the Bard, they are manifestations of the characters in the plays and are called by the names given to them by the playwright. Scene changes occur on their own when the scripts call for them, and everything is controlled by The Book: The Complete Works of the Stage, which contains every play. Bertie lives in one of the sets, Bertie's Bedroom, and spends her time with various characters, mostly the fairies from A Midsummer Night's Dream and Nate the pirate. But she has a tendency to get into mischief, and finally it gets to be too much for the Theatre Manager, who plans to evict her from the Theatre. He gives Bertie one last chance to prove her worth, and Bertie sets out to make her mark in the Theatre.
The concept of the book was very appealing to me when I first picked it up, but the deeper I got into the book, the more dissatisfied I was. I pushed on, hoping things would get better, but here's what I had a problem with:
The idea of the Players being the actual characters from the play is the most intriguing hook of the story, and there are so many possibilities to explore in a situation like this, but it's not really developed. Then it was hard to figure out what the main part of the story was. I've read that the main character has to have a clear motivation early on in the story, and everything that happens has to be informed by his/her desire and attempts to get it. But Bertie's motivation is not very clear throughout the book, and in fact seems to change. At first, it seems very clear that her goal is to prove herself valuable by directing a new version of Hamlet, but when I expected to see her struggles in implementing this, I was disappointed since that's hardly discussed. The ending of the book, when Bertie finds out who her mother is, seems to point to her desire to find out who she is as her motivation - but that was a side point for most of the book.
Aside from those issues I had with the plot structure, though, the style of the book is quite good. (Not to sound presumptuous, but if I was an editor or agent, I wouldn't turn away this book even though I think there are major problems in the plot, because the author is without a doubt talented. I just think she could have cleaned up the plot a bit to strengthen the story.) As the jacket says, the characters are "irreverent," and it's really interesting how each of the Players takes on a little of his/her character from the plays. Not entirely, but a bit. There's a lot of humor because of this.
Bertie herself is great. I loved her character, and she is so real that she jumps off the page. The fairies are also very real, and unique - especially Peaseblossom. Really, all the characters are unique - and I think it's very hard to do that - to maintain so many characters' individual voices and styles for the full length of the book. And there's another book on the series, so the author committed to sustain these characters for at least another book! But everything each character says and does fits each one - they "stay in character" for the whole book.
So while I didn't love the book, I'm not writing off this author. She's got a great style and voice, and this is her first novel, so here's hoping the next book's plot is more consistent!