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Review: Stardust by Neil Gaiman

by Neil Gaiman

Just outside of the town of Wall, the Faerie Market is held every nine years. During one of these markets, a child is conceived. Raised by his human father, Tristran Thorn grows up and in his eighteenth year he seeks a kiss from the town beauty, Victoria. As they are walking together, they spot a shooting star, and Tristran rashly promises to bring Victoria that star in exchange for the kiss. She agrees, and Tristran leaves the town, crossing into Faerie as he tracks the fallen star. But Tristran isn’t the only one who wants to find the star. Witches and warriors also seek it – or, as it turns out, seek her. Tristran manages to beat the others and finds the star first, only to find that the young woman is no willing companion on his quest. Neil Gaiman spins a wonderful fairy tale full of magic and adventure, danger and delight.

Stardust is short book – the gift edition published last year by William Morrow is less than three hundred pages, and that includes introduction and postscript and a sequel chapter/prologue. It’s also printed in a largish text. In my experience, Neil Gaiman is at his best when he writes shorter stories. Whether it’s a kid’s book like Coraline or an adult novel like The Ocean at the End of the Lane, I enjoy his work more when his books are concise and concentrated.

As a fairy tale, Stardust is lively and beautiful. It slides in easily amongst the tales written by authors like Andersen and Wilde, both paying homage to the genre and subverting it a bit. (Well, Andersen probably wouldn’t qualify as subversive, but Wilde certainly was.) Our heroes, Yvaine the fallen star and Tristran, have a tendency toward blandness, but that is pretty normal for the hero and heroine of a fairy tale. Yvaine manages to avoid falling into the standard “damsel in distress” trap; while she is currently physically incapable of surviving on her own, her feisty personality and obvious irritation with Tristran make it clear that were it not for her injury, she’d hightail it out of his adventure and forge her own path in the world.

The side characters are often quite delightful. I love the Lilim – ancient witches so old that their names have been lost; they seek the star because its power will grant them youth and beauty. Man, if that really worked I’d go off hunting fallen stars, too! The lords of Stormhold, the ruling family of a faerie kingdom, are also great – the father dies and his seven sons must duke it out to inherit the kingdom. As the brothers are systematically killed off, their ghosts continue to haunt the remaining siblings, although they can’t be seen. It’s quite fun.

If you’ve never had a chance to read this book, it’s a great fairy tale and a lot of fun. Be mindful of which edition you pick, though, since some versions have illustrations and some do not. There’s a colorful, fully illustrated version by Vertigo which has beautiful paintings by Charles Vess; it’s been many years since I read it, but if I remember correctly it is not a graphic novel, although it’s usually found in that section of the bookstore. The version that I just finished is the hardcover “gift” edition, which has a new frontispiece but doesn’t have any illustrations mixed in with the text. It’s a cool-lookin’ hardcover, though, and if you like your Gaiman books to match it looks like William Morrow is reissuing a lot of his novels and short story collections in a similar style. But whatever version of Stardust you find, do give it a read and go on a fairy tale adventure.

4.5 out of 5 stars

To read more about Stardust, buy it or add it to your wishlist click here.

Peeking into the archives...today in:
2012: The Autobiography of Benvenuto Cellini
2011: Fashionista Piranha will be on hiatus for a while…
2010: Dolis by Maki Kusumoto
2009: The Angel’s Game by Carlos Ruis Zafon
2008: A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K. LeGuin


( 2 comments — Leave a comment )
Jul. 13th, 2013 04:46 pm (UTC)
I really like the movie. It sounds like the storyline is a little different here and there, but it's still really fun.
Jul. 13th, 2013 05:49 pm (UTC)
I've yet to see the movie, but my understanding is that the endings are radically different.
( 2 comments — Leave a comment )

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