Perchance to Dream
Reviewed by Pauline J. Alama
[This review originally appeared in Mythprint 48:7 (#348) in July 2011.]
Perchance to Dream, the second book of Lisa Mantchev’s Théâtre Illuminata trilogy, does not stand alone, so if you haven’t read Eye Like Stars, get that one first. In fact, if (like me) you read Eyes Like Stars when it was new, you will probably want to refresh your memory, because this second volume starts right where the first one left off, taking the revelations of its busy conclusion and running with them in new, ever-weirder directions.
If you like theater, Shakespeare, or stories that play self-consciously with the concept of storytelling, don’t pass up this Young Adult trilogy about performers from an enchanted theater inhabited by all the characters enshrined in “The Complete Works of the Stage,” a magical book that’s bigger inside than out.
Beatrice Shakespeare Smith, or Bertie for short, is not one of these characters but a foundling child raised in the Théâtre Illuminata. Aided and abetted by her best friends, four small fairies from A Midsummer Night’s Dream, she sows chaos and change in a place accustomed to scripted characters speaking the same lines every night. Now seventeen and discovering her abilities, she seeks her own place in the theatre as the Teller of Tales, capable of adding new dramas to the Compleat Works. Bertie’s emerging word-magic is a threat to the order cherished by the Theater Manager. Meanwhile, two stage characters seek her love: Nate, a good-hearted pirate with a bit part in The Little Mermaid, and Ariel, the airy spirit from The Tempest, portrayed as a sexy bad boy who encourages Bertie’s chaotic impulses even more than the fairies do.
Perchance to Dream follows Bertie’s journey out of the Theatre Illuminata with a small traveling company — Ariel and the four fairies — to rescue Nate from the clutches of Sedna, a vengeful sea goddess. A journal becomes Bertie’s magical script book: the words she writes in it are enacted in the world around her, but never in the way she expects. She struggles with the risks and limitations of her power, learning that even her best-intentioned actions can do damage. Often, the consequences of her magic run to comedy, especially in her efforts to satisfy the fairies’ craving for pie. But darker consequences threaten Bertie and her friends: her attempt to rescue Nate simply by writing “ENTER NATE” summons a fading ghost of him, a spirit torn from his body as Bertie’s magic wars with that of Sedna.
The romantic plot is refreshingly complex: rather than the often-used Pride and Predjudice formula in which one man is Mr. Right and the other Mr. Absolutely Wrong, Bertie hovers undecided between two equally balanced suitors, both lovable, both sincerely caring, but neither quite the boyfriend you’d wish on a friend. Ariel, ever the “tricksy spirit,” is just plain untrustworthy, but Nate’s solid protectiveness often seems too paternal for a lover. Both seek to possess her, while Bertie struggles for a sense of self-possession.
Sparkling, witty, warm, literate, and offbeat, Perchance to Dream continues the mix of whimsy and wonder that made Eyes Like Stars a success (and a 2010 Mythopoeic Fantasy Award finalist). Bertie’s quest to balance autonomy and love may strike a chord with many adolescents—and not a few adults. The sequel, So Silver Bright, will come out in September, and I can hardly wait.