Stardust by Neil Gaiman
Genre: Fantasy, fairy tale retelling
I’ve been on a bit of a Neil Gaiman streak since reading Neverwhere, and I’m still bummed at myself for never reading him before. But I guess that gives me time to thoroughly enjoy his books now.
Tristran Thorn has never felt like he belongs in the village of Wall. When Victoria, the girl he loves, says she will give him whatever he desires if he fetches her the falling star they saw drop to the other side of the stone wall that separates their world from the strange and magical land of Stormhold, Tristran doesn’t hesitate to agree. In order to prove his love, Tristran sets out on the journey of a lifetime, encountering hungry witches, bloodthirsty princes, and air pirates along the way, only to discover that his heritage is not as he thought it was and that maybe Victoria is not who he truly desires at all.
Like a number of you, I grew up on the fantasy adventure movie adaptation of Gaiman’s Stardust starring Charlie Cox and Claire Danes. I’m a huge fan of the movie for its delightful mix of fairy tale style, tongue in cheek antics, swashbuckling adventure, and adorable romance. I think I went into the novel expecting more similarities to the movie, so while Stardust was an enjoyable read (and downright hilarious at times), I found it a bit anticlimactic and generally underwhelming.
Gaiman’s writing style, as usual, is flawless. His characters are witty and fascinating, and his world building is absolutely incredible. The book left me wanting to know more about Gaiman’s world and the strange creatures inhabiting it. I found, however, that some of the best parts of the movie (Robert DeNiro’s cloud pirate for instance), were hardly more than a few paragraphs in the book. While the first half seemed well thought out, the second half, and particularly the end, was rushed and halfhearted. All the perils the book had built toward kind of sputtered and died with little bravado, and it was more by accident rather than by his own merit that Tristran gets his happily ever after.
Outside of that, Gaiman builds a fascinating world of adventure and magic. I truly wonder if I hadn’t seen the movie first if I would have been more enchanted by this book. Gaiman does a good job of parodying fairy tale tropes, however, doing what he does best by turning norms on their head in a manner that is truly, delightfully unforgettable.