As a child, I loved to read fairy tales. Neil Gaiman’s new book, Stardust, is a fairy tale for grown ups. It contains many elements of a classic fairy tale, including the stalwart, underdog hero, evil witches, murderous princes, and more than one fair maiden. But these elements have an adult sensibility, and they are presented in a way grown up fairy tale fans will enjoy. This is a quick read, but a very fanciful and imaginative one.
The action begins in the city of Wall during the reign of Queen Victoria. Although Wall is an isolated city, it is more or less a normal one, with one exception – Wall borders the land of Faerie. There is a single gate which leads to that mythic land, and the townspeople of Wall are charged with guarding it. The only time anyone is allowed through the wall is once every nine years, when there is an unusual market fair on the Faerie side of the wall.
Tristran Thorn is conceived during a market fair, when his father mates with an inhabitant of Faerie. Nine months later, baby Tristran appears at the wall with a name tag stating his identity. He is raised as a normal mortal, but everyone in town knows that there is something different about him. When Tristran falls in love with the beautiful Victoria Forester, he offers to retrieve a fallen star for her if she will marry him. She accepts, and Tristran sets off through the gate and into Faerie in search of the star.
To say too much about Tristran’s adventures in Faerie would spoil the delightful surprises that abound in this novel. His journey to find the star is perilous, as there are many others who desire the star as well. The danger is not over once he finds the star either. While Tristran is on his journey he learns about his heritage, and examines his true feelings for Victoria. And just when you decide that there will be loose ends left unexplained, everything is wrapped up in an nice tidy package.
The denizens of Faerie are enchanting, and I couldn’t get enough of them. The interactions there are full of humor and fancy. These are not deep characters, for Stardust isn’t that kind of book. And even the evil ones are just plain fun. Gaiman handles the intricate plot expertly, and by the end I truly appreciated how finely this novel was crafted.
The only thing that kept this book from being a true desert isle keeper is that it took a little too long for Tristran to get to Faerie. Gaiman spent a lot of time setting up the scenario to get him there, and while this part of the book isn’t dull, it just wasn’t as exciting as the more fanciful scenes that took place once Tristran crossed the wall. I enjoyed the Faerie part of the book so much that I really wished there had been more of it; I could cheerfully have read a few hundred more pages of Tristran’s adventures.
But I would much rather read a great book that was a little too short than a horrible one that was way too long. I have read very few books that could be classified as fantasy, but I really enjoyed this one. If you, like me, have forgotten why you used to love fairy tales, give Stardust a try. Your inner child will thank you.
|Review Date:||November 30, 1998|