Stardust by Neil Gaiman
Stardust was a wonderfully enjoyable book. I absolutely basked in its greatness. It certainly doesn't hurt that I'm a fan of Mr. Gaiman, because of his reputation, the articles I've read about him, and because of the two excellent books of his I've read. (I previously read, loved and reviewed American Gods.) So yes, I dug this book partly because I like his style, but mostly because it's an enchanting read.

The story comfortably wraps you up in a classic fairy tale blanket, but then thrills you with many imaginative and clever twists. The main character is a half human, half fairy boy called Tristran Thorn. This young fellow has the misfortune, just like countless other literary heroes have before, of falling in love with a girl who doesn't return his affections. However, it just so happens that one night while Tristran and Miss Victoria Forester (the unattainable girl he so wishes to attain), are out walking, they happen to see a falling star in the distance. Tristran foolishly promises to do the impossible - to retrieve the star for Victoria and in exchange, she vows to do whatever he asks of her. Presumably to return his love and agree to be his bride. Thus begins Tristran's fantastic, dangerous quest into the land of the Faeiries to find and bring back the fallen star. Amazing adventures await young Mr. Thorn as we soon find out that he is not the only being who witnessed the star falling. And the others who seek it have their own motives, which makes them all more than willing to do whatever it takes to win the prize.

I was enthralled by this story for lots of reasons but I will limit myself to three big ones. Firstly, the characters are all superb and likable on their own and together they make an exotic, fascinating cast. Tristran himself is a fine hero whom we readers really care about and root for as we see his sense of inner worth, his loyalty, and his devotion driving him to his heart's desire. Not riches or fame or the thrill of battle. He’s not a swashbuckling warrior, nor is he a bumbling-but-lucky fool. He’s just Tristran Thorn, quietly and incessantly going about his quest with the belief that he can - and will - succeed. The lovely fallen star is, well, I won’t spoil her character....oops, too late. Then you have the other star seekers: one being a fearsome, ferocious witch-queen and the rest being the strong, brave, last-remaining sons of the mighty (and recently deceased) Lord of Stormhold. And of course there are many other intriguing humans, fairies and beasts deftly sprinkled throughout the tale - all essential and remarkable in their own ways.

The second element I liked was Gaiman’s particular fondness for the “little details” in his story. I can tell he honestly thinks about every aspect of his characters, their world and the plot and he wants everything to be tight and complete. I found joy in the small instances of magic he includes, in the travelers that Tristran meets who help him along, in the tasks our hero has to solve that have built upon other things he’s already done. One aspect I particularly loved was Gaiman’s inclusion of the ghosts of the fallen sons of Stormhold. There were seven brothers at first, yet when we pick up the story there are just three, each of which is then slowly picked off as we read along. But the brothers' spectres remain, to quietly and relentlessly haunt each other throughout the tale. They provide commentary on each other’s existence in a jealous, competitive but also strongly familial way. Sort of like ‘You can’t treat us badly, only we can treat each other badly, even when some of us are dead and some are alive.’ I'm realizing now that this is a bit hard to describe so hopefully you get the point. These sombre, thoughtful and sometimes humorous apparitions are just one of many, many really neat, well-developed, superbly written little details that all stir together to make Stardust a delicious read.

Lastly, I'll mention that this book has one of my most favorite things in that there are several plot lines going along, all of which are fun and fascinating, making the reader constantly anxious (in a good way) about what’s coming next. The different courses of activity expertly crossover back and forth, weaving together until all is resolved in the end. I love books like this because there are so many diverse characters and happenings going on yet everything is related and you know it’s all rushing down the road to the same big place. Now, all that being said, the one beef I have with the story is the ending was a little soft. I was a little surprised that there wasn't a grander confrontation to close out Tristran’s quest. However, it was an especially satisfying and thoughtful conclusion that certainly fit within the fairy tale tone of the book, so I got over myself very quickly.

Incidentally, there is actually a movie version of Stardust which came out in 2007. It appears that things in the film are a bit different from the book (shocking!) but it still has an impressive 7.7 rating on IMDB so I'll give the movie a try. But I betcha the story reads a lot better...

Overall, I highly recommend Stardust to boys or girls of probably high school age and up because I think Tristran is around 18 in the story and it seems that writers usually try to match up their content with the age of their MC. Plus, it must be mentioned that, strangely enough, there is one love scene in the beginning of the book that begins to get a little graphic with the mentioning of “cupping breasts” and “squeezing the nubbins of the breast”. This is followed by a fairly soft core love scene that’s described mostly with indirect language, but Gaiman makes sure the reader knows what’s what. I say this scene is ‘strange’ because it’s really the only inappropriate-for-younger-readers thing in the whole book. There is nothing else that approaches this level of "adultness" so I found it somewhat odd to have this one and only racy scene. Actually, there is some fighting which includes a throat slash or two and a bit of blood here and there, but none of this felt too graphic to me (even though it sounds harsh) because it’s all fairy tale-esque action that flows within the story line. Can’t overlook that one sex scene though and when combined with the mild violence, it does make me believe this one is for mature readers. Adults with a heart for magic and fantasy will like this story too. In fact, if you love “The Princess Bride” - give Stardust a try and I hope you'll enjoy it because both books are cut from a similar cloth!

Here's a passage that exemplifies Gaiman's rich, beautiful writing:

He stared up at the stars: and it seemed to him then that they were dancers, stately and graceful, performing a dance almost infinite in its complexity. He imagined he could see the very faces of the stars; pale, they were, and smiling gently, as if they had spent so much time above the world, watching the scrambling and the joy and the pain of the people below them, that they could not help being amused every time another little human believed itself the center of its world, as each of us does.

Lovely imagery. Here's a bit of clever dialogue that includes our hero Tristran:

The little man stared up at him with eyes like beads of jet. “Because that’s the only reason a lad like you would be stupid enough to cross the border into Faerie. The only ones who ever come here from your lands are the minstrels, and the lovers, and the mad. And you don’t look like much of a minstrel, and you’re— pardon me saying so, lad, but it’s true— ordinary as cheese- crumbs. So it’s love, if you ask me.”

“Because,” announced Tristran, “every lover is in his heart a madman, and in his head a minstrel.”

“Really?” said the little man, doubtfully...

Simply superb writing. And it's only $2.99 for Kindle - that's a steal! Check out the 1000+ great reviews on Amazon!

Happy Reading!
My write-up on American Gods also by Neil Gaiman