This review contains spoilers for the first two books, but not for this one.
I am pleased to have finished this series! Having the questions of whether Bertie’s parents could or would ever get back together, or even whether she would ever see either of them again; and whether she would end up with Ariel or Nate (or neither? or both?! – as River Song would say, that is a whole other birthday…) in the end were driving me a bit nuts.
And now I know how Mantchev resolved it. And if you haven’t read the books, you don’t. So nyer.
The story opens with Bertie dealing with the aftermath of how she dealt with Sedna, the Sea Goddess, and its repercussions for her father, as well as Nate – whom she has rescued – and Ariel, to whom she is kind of now married… as well as being married to Nate. Um, oops. So, it’s back to the Caravanserai, but not for long because she receives a summons from Her Gracious Majesty to perform before her, and so the journeys of this crazy little troupe continue. They involve bandits, a queen, several tricky journeys, the use of magic, gaining and losing companions, and finally a return to where everything began, the Theatre Illuminata.
The plot is generally well-paced, and there were some clever twists and turns to it. As far as characters go, Bertie did not grow on me further. I really liked her in Eyes Like Stars, the first novel; then she got a little grating in the second, as it didn’t feel like she was quite taking charge enough. By this time, even though it’s only a few weeks after the events in the first story, she has… evened out, maybe? Although she is still being pushed around by the winds of fortune (heh), she feels more balanced, and at the same time more willing to take necessary risks. I don’t think I’m explaining this very well, but the upshot was I think that I like and respect her more in this story, certainly by the end, although I’m still not convinced I’d like to know her in reality.
The rest of the cast don’t change that much, with the exception of Ariel. Nate develops more as an individual because he actually has some page-space, which his kidnapping had largely disallowed for the last book and a half or so, but he doesn’t exhibit any unexpected character traits like sea-sickness or being a mathematical genius. He remains a loyal friend, and a good friend, which is exactly what he should be. Waschbar is probably the most intriguing and underdeveloped of all the characters, with his determination only to steal unwanted items… and just wait til you meet Varvara. But then there’s Ariel, who is developed in this story. We finally get more of an insight into his motivations (aside from lusting after Bertie like nothing else), and that’s unexpectedly poignant (much as I dislike the terminology, I have always been Team Nate).
Finally there’s the fairies, who continue to be awesome and pastry-lusting and crude. Just for bonus marks, there is a marvellous exchange between Moth and Peasablossom on the question of vampire bats: “Don’t be ridiculous… Vampire bats don’t sparkle.” “They do! They’re a great glittery menace!” Ah fairies. So snarky. So true.