Sunday, January 30, 2011

Stepping into a Fantasy World

Book Reviewed: Stardust, by Neil Gaiman

I've never liked fantasy. Even when I was young and most vulnerable to my imagination, I disliked it. I wanted to read stories that reflected the world around me as I knew it. That's changed a lot in the last couple years. I've found movies and TV shows about the paranormal or bizarre that I really like. More importantly, I discovered Neil Gaiman's books. Gaiman, like the best fantasy writers, uses the fantastical to shine a light on actual human interactions and emotions. A vampire can be the most humane character in The Graveyard Book. Angels can be as capable of jealousy and passion as their creations in Murder Mysteries. Gaiman made me realize the joy of invention that can be found in fantasy.

That being said, I still like Gaiman's most "realistic" books best. I love American Gods because Shadow is such a perfectly human protagonist; same goes for The Graveyard Book's Bod. For this reason, I've been a little apprehensive about trying out one of Gaiman's most famous books, Stardust. Stardust is real fantasy. It has a human (well, half-human) protagonist and begins in a little English village. But most of the book takes place in the land of Faerie, and a star is a major character. Just looking at this book made me wary. However, one of my friends absolutely adores Stardust, so I was willing to give it a try.

I have to admit; it wasn't my cup of tea. Like all of Gaiman's books, it takes very human concepts and glances at them through the window of the bizarre and magical. But this book was very much fantasy. Tristran Thorn, born almost eighteen years earlier under mysterious circumstances, leaves the village of Wall in order to retrieve a falling star coveted by his crush, Victoria. To do that, he must pass into the land of Faerie. There, he does find the star (who looks and behaves like a human girl) and much trouble. He's not the only one looking for her, you see. But he is the only one unwilling to destroy her to get what he wants. There's adventure and sacrifice and romance along the way, and everyone gets what they deserve at the end. It's a perfect example of a fairy tale. Unfortunately, I've never liked fairy tales. So this wasn't quite the book for me.

That's not to say that I actively disliked this book. It's impossible for me not to enjoy a Neil Gaiman novel. I loved the character of the star, Yvaine, who wasn't all sweetness and sugar like you might expect. Also, the humor is dry and understated in classic Gaiman fashion. That's one of my favorite things about Gaiman. He doesn't underline the jokes like so many other writers. You have to be fully immersed in the story to get just how funny some of his sentences are. The final few pages of this book also make it worth reading. It's a happy ending, but it's not overly schmaltzy or perfect. I actually got a little choked up at the ending sentence, a lovely little summation of everything that works in this book. The first chapter is pretty awesome, too.

I can see why my friend loves Stardust so much. Indeed, it's a very winning story. Unfortunately, it just doesn't do it for me the way parts of American Gods or Gaiman's best short stories do.


  1. It's brilliant on audiobook, too; Gaiman reads it perfectly!

  2. I love listening to Gaiman read his own work. His voice is absolutely wonderful.

  3. I didn't realize Stardust was a Gaiman novel. I'll have to pick it up, the movie was cute.

  4. I need to see the movie. I'm interested in seeing how it compares to the book.