Sunday, April 11, 2010

Perchance to Dream by Lisa Mantchev

I know, I know. It's National Poetry Month, you say. Why are you blogging about a prose novel? The answer is that I just can't help myself. And! Many of the characters in Perchance to Dream are based on (or pulled out of) Shakespeare's plays (and I did just post Shakespeare's Sonnet 55 yesterday). Also! There is a bit of poetry within the book. Specifically, on page two of the book, Peaseblossom (yes, one of the fairies from A Midsummer Night's Dream) creates her own prologue, which begins as follows*:

A gloaming peace this evening with it brings
In the countryside where we lay our scene
Toad-ballad accompan'd, crickets sing,
and cupcake crumbs make fairy hands unclean.
(Bonus points to those of you who recognize Peaseblossom's prologue as a parody of the opening of Romeo and Juliet:

Two households, both alike in dignity,
In fair Verona, where we lay our scene,
From ancient grudge break to new mutiny,
Where civil blood makes civil hands unclean.
But I digress, as this is not a post about poetry, but is instead a post about Perchance to Dream, which draws its title from yet another Shakespeare play, Hamlet - and specifically from the monologue beginning "To be or not to be, that is the question."

Many of you may recall that one of my favorite YA novels published last year was Eyes Like Stars by Lisa Mantchev. In it, readers were introduced to Bertie (Beatrice Shakespeare Smith), a young girl raised by committee within the confines of the Théâtre Illuminata. Bertie's constant companions are Moth, Cottonseed, Mustard and Peaseblossom, four of the fairies from A Midsummer Night's Dream. In Eyes Like Stars, Mantchev's first book, we learn that Bertie has quite a crush on Nate, a pirate from The Little Mermaid, and is entangled – emotionally and otherwise – with Ariel, the air spirit from The Tempest. Through a fantastic series of events (and I mean that in both senses of the word and in the best possible way), we learn the identity of Bertie's mother and that Bertie has quite a magical way with words. The book ends with Bertie, the four fairies and Ariel setting off into the wide world outside the Théâtre to rescue Nate, who has been taken by Sedna, the sea goddess. If you've not read the first book yet, then I assure you that you are in for a treat – and that I haven't managed to completely spoil it for you. There are so many reasons to read (or re-read) the book: Shakespeare! tango! mystery! adventure! (What I've mentioned here is the sketchiest of outlines.) But again, this review is supposed to be about Perchance to Dream. I am as distractable as a fairy in a dessert car, am I not?

In Perchance to Dream, we follow Bertie's adventure in the wide world alongside the dreamy Ariel, off in a caravan pulled by clockwork horses (so cool!), accompanied by the small (but huge-of-heart) fairies as company. Early in their travels they encounter Waschbär, a sneak-thief who keeps company with a pair of ferrets named Pip Pip and Cheerio, and the Scrimshander, an interesting sort of being whom I won't attempt to describe just now. Both of the new men turn out to have far more important roles than one might initially expect, but in the interest of not spoiling the novel, that's all I'll say about that. There is a wedding feast, a circus train, a magical marketplace, a cliff, an undersea kingdom and more. There are two leading men, one extremely determined leading lady who refuses to be anyone's satellite and insists on making her own stage directions, and (as in the first book) a celebration of the magic and power of words.

I can't really tell you anything about the plot of this book except that Bertie remains determined to rescue Nate from Sedna, that the fairies remain determined to eat everyone they meet out of house and home (especially if there's pie to be had), and that many of the characters, Bertie included, are more than they first appear to be – and nearly all of them surprise themselves with the choices they are willing to make, often for the sake of others.

While I can't say much about the plot, what I can tell you is that the story is exceedingly well-written, that the plot is riveting, the characters are engaging (I continue to half-wish that the four fairies were real and could come live with me, although in real life, they'd be pretty mortifying – and hard to keep in cake; I also have the hots for Ariel, even though it could never work out between us – he's an air spirit and I'm an Aries; fire and air is too combustible to last), and that the world inside the book is interesting enough to make me want to revisit it. Both of these books are on my "I wish I'd written that" shelf, to give you some idea how very much I love them.

Perchance to Dream is caravaning its way into stores at the end of May. The paperback version of its predecessor, Eyes Like Stars, is, however, already appearing in some stores in advance of its April 13th release date. Please do not trample anyone on your way to get it, but do move with all deliberate speed to acquire Eyes Like Stars if you haven't already done so. You'll thank me when you're all caught up for this book come May.

Oh. Before I go. Come this year's Summer Blog Blast Tour (which will be in May), I'll be interviewing the lovely and talented Lisa Mantchev. You won't want to miss it.

*The quote from the book is drawn from an Uncorrected Advanced Review Copy and the final text may therefore vary. Many thanks to the good people at Feiwel and Friends for sending the ARC my way.

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