Having discovered who her mother is and wanting to rescue Nate, who might be the love of her life and has been kidnapped by the Sea Goddess Sedna, Beatrice Shakespeare Smith – Bertie – sets out into the world with four miscreant fairies and one devious air-elemental. And this is where one really big difference between the first and second books occurs: the setting. Where the casual magic of the Theatre Illuminata kind of made sense because it’s a theatre, and it seems to occupy a space not really connected to a particular time or space, the ‘real’ world is meant to be just that. So the magic of Bertie’s words, and of some of the other characters met along the way, seemed slightly more out of place. Perhaps this is because I was expecting the story to be more grounded in particularity – perhaps Bertie’s ‘real’ (non-theatre) world isn’t meant to be any more ‘my’ real world at all.
That’s maybe a quibble, but it did still sit at the back of my mind gnawing a bit. There were a couple of other things that gnawed, including Bertie’s relationship with and attitude towards both Nate and Ariel. I’m not a fan of the love triangle at the best of times, and this one made me uncomfortable because I couldn’t tell which one I thought she would, or should, end up with! Perhaps silly, but there you go. I also occasionally had difficulty telling whether something was actually happening to Bertie in the real world, or whether it was a dream, or if it was happening for real but in an other place. It may well be that Mantchev was blurring boundaries deliberately, but I found that this confusion threw me out of the story occasionally.
Nonetheless, I did enjoy this novel. Mantchev has a delightful turn of phrase and it’s fast-moving enough that I basically read it in a sitting (helps that I am on holidays). Bertie continues to be an enjoyable and engaging heroine, who develops by necessity as she encounters difficulties and as she considers the holds that people have on her, and how to be her own person. The fairies are still winsome and incorrigible, and have renewed my own interest in pie. Ariel… continues to be problematic. I don’t especially like The Tempest, but should I ever bother to see it again I will certainly have difficulty viewing him without Mantchev-glasses (I will also suffer from Dan-Simmons-glasses when watching Caliban, so maybe I really ought not to see it again. Oh so sad). The plot, as I said, was fast-moving and had some fun bits, but I think suffers with comparison to the first book. That was so tight, and focussed around one really core issue, that it felt utterly of a piece. Here, although rescuing Nate is central, the action feels more episodic and bound together much more loosely.
I’m intrigued that there is a third (and, I think, final) book in the series; it will be very interesting to see where Mantchev takes Bertie et al next.