Stardust by Neil Gaiman
I love Neil Gaiman, but I’d somehow managed to not read Stardust until now. Whilst not my favourite novel of his, Stardust is an excellent little read, very clever but entirely unpretentious and earnest. More so than any other Gaiman novel which I’ve read, this one reads like a labour of love, the kind of novel that could only be written by someone who loves a good story more than anything.
Stardust is a modern fairy tale set in the early 19th century and tells the story of Tristran Thorn, a young man in love with the beautiful Victoria Forester. Tristran and Victoria live in ‘Wall’, a town which stands on the border of our mundane world and ‘Faerie’, the land of magic. Tristran is half fairy himself, but he doesn’t know it. When they witness a shooting star fall into Faerie, Victoria promises her hand if Tristran brings the star back to her. Against expectations, Tristran embarks into Faerie to find the star. He isn’t the only one however, having to compete with witches and sinister Princes to reach his star.
The ‘Fearie’ world which Gaiman conjures is an unabashedly fantastical one. Every whimsical imagining is fair game in this world, and it’s actually a joy to see a writer be so unconstrained. When creating a fantasy world it’s always vital to have a sense of internal logic and coherency. This is where George R. R. Martin and Brandon Sanderson excel, creating worlds which feel real and consistent, understanding that limits are as important as ideas. This is almost always the case. Stardust is a rare exception. The world of Stardust is a work of constant imagination, built upon myths and legend, yet putting a fresh spin on these ideas. Gaiman’s inventiveness doesn’t come from the dragging oddities from nowhere, but from taking elements of our own mythology and our own world and finding the strange within them.
The sheer inventiveness and sense of fun in the creation of this world uplifts everything. It isn’t all fun though, and Gaiman isn’t afraid to shy away from the darker scenes from fairytales, with some downright disturbing and scary scenes mixing well with the sense of wondrous joy. However, the plot isn’t particularly tightly structured, and the conclusion isn’t nearly as explosive as it should have been. The story ends rather neatly, with the most promising major confrontations coming to nothing. I suppose I had no right to expect anything else; this is a fairy tale, so a fairy tale ending is to be expected. There are plenty of reasons to read, but the most important to me will always be to be told a story. Stardust tells a wonderful, exciting and interesting story.
Gaiman’s style has always been a wonderful mixture of the arch mythological fantasy style with the mundane, with the juxtaposition of these two opposing concepts often being the root of a lot of his comedy. There are some wonderfully plain spoken, blithe moments slotted among the fairy tale style of the rest of the novel. Gaiman is a clever, but unpretentious, writer, with no showoffiness, letting the quality of his writing speak for itself.
Gaiman’s protagonists are often straight men, reacting to the madness around them without having particularly distinguishing characteristics in themselves, such as Shadow from American God, Richard from Neverwhere and Fat Charlie from Anansi Boys. Tristran is another of these; I’m not criticising, this is an archetype that works for Gaiman. The characters which intrigued me most were the competitive and sinister princes of Stormhold, named Primus through to Septimus. This element of the story was probably my favourite part, and I would have loved to have seen more from these seven. A spin off prequel telling of the exploits of these seven brothers would be very welcome in my mind.
Stardust is a lovely little novel. It’s not a long book, so it’s not difficult to fit into your reading schedule. It may not be my favourite Neil Gaiman novel, but it’s a lot of fun and well worth a look.