Stardust, Neil Gaiman – Book Review

Stardust‘ is a classic fairytale, told by one of the great fantasy writers of our time.

I confess that I probably wouldn’t have picked this up had it not been written by Neil Gaiman, since I’ve enjoyed the book he wrote with Terry Pratchett, ‘Good Omens‘ time and time again.

However, I did thoroughly enjoy this book. It fits perfectly within the fairytale genre without resorting to any of the clichés, or to sloppy sentimentality. None of the characters fit within the traditional moulds (except for a few witches), and I found that truly refreshing.

It tells the story of Tristran Thorn, who does not know that his mother was from Faerie – the land beyond the stone wall which his town guards, and which bears its name. Every nine years, a fair is held, where ordinary people from Wall can meet the traders of Faerie. At these fairs, you can buy:

‘Eyes, eyes! New eyes for old!’ shouted a tiny woman in front of a table covered with bottles and jars filled with eyes of every kind and colour.

‘Instruments from a hundred lands! Penny whistles! Tuppenny hums! Threepenny choral anthems!’

‘Everlasting lavender! Bluebell cloth!’

‘Coats of night! Coats of twilight! Coats of dusk!’

‘Swords of fortune! Wands of power! Rings of eternity! Cards of grace! Roll-up, roll-up, step this way!’

There were wonders for sale, and marvels, and miracles; there were things undreamed-of and objects unimagined (what need, Dunstan wondered, could someone have of the storm filled eggshells?).

A young and foolish Tristran, besotted with a beautiful village girl, promises to bring back a star they see fall, in return for his hearts desire. What Tristran doesn’t realise is that when he reaches the star, it will be a real girl, not just a diamond or cold lump of rock. And she proves to be surprisingly sensible…

“Adventures are all very well in their place, he thought, but there’s a lot to be said for regular meals and freedom from pain.”

There is a lot of ‘throw-away’ imagination in this story, such as the short sojourn Tristran spends with the airship ‘The Free Ship Perdita’, which fishes for and catches lightning bolts.  Another writer would have laboured over these flights of fancy more, but in ‘Stardust’, it is only a short interlude in the larger story.

There are also brief moments of quite horrifying violence, such as when the Queen of the Witches deals finally with the unicorn. However, any cursory study of fairytales will tell you that some horrible parts are par for the course. Without them, we might start to sympathise too much with the baddies.

So, if you’re looking for some refreshing escapism, I couldn’t recommend ‘Stardust’ highly enough.

Five stars from me.

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8 thoughts on “Stardust, Neil Gaiman – Book Review

  1. I haven’t read this one, but I did enjoy the movie. I’m sure the book is better though as books always are. I love your new blog design. It feels like I’m traveling through the universe while visiting!

    • Thanks! Always nice to have a change. The image is from NASA.
      I didn’t know there was a movie of Stardust – I hope they didn’t sentimentalize it too much.

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