When I first started writing this blog, I had barely read any Neil Gaiman. Now, I am slowly making my way through his oeuvre. My latest read was Stardust, one of Gaiman’s earlier novels. I had heard about this story before, mostly in terms of the movie adaptation (which I still haven’t seen), but it’s not usually the first book that comes to mind when you think “Neil Gaiman.” I was pleasantly surprised, then, to find how much I enjoyed this book, especially compared to how disappointed I’ve been with some of his more celebrated works.
Stardust is a fairytale in the traditional English style. The story takes place in a village called Wall, which exists along the border between England and Faerie. As you might expect from the name, a wall separates the townspeople from their more mysterious neighbors, but once every nine years the gate goes unguarded and the humans and faeries mingle at the great faerie market. It is at this market that Dunstan Thorn meets the faerie woman who later has his child. Tristran Thorn grows up in Wall with no knowledge of his heritage. The story picks up eighteen years later when Tristran is courting the town beauty, Victoria Forester. In an impetuous show of devotion, Tristran promises to fetch Victoria the shooting star that they see fall from the sky and down into Faerie. Determined to fulfill his promise, Tristran breaks the town taboo of crossing the wall on a non-market day and embarks on an eventful adventure in Faerie. His quest suddenly seems less noble and romantic, however, when Tristran learns that the fallen star is a woman, rather than a hunk of rock or a gem that he can simply pick up and bring home. As Tristran struggles with the conflict between his obligation and his guilt at taking away the star’s freedom, the star soon learns that a lovesick teenage boy may be the least of her problems.
I’ve mentioned in the past that Neil Gaiman can be pretty hit or miss for me. I tend to prefer his more folksy works rather than his attempts to be more high-brow literary. And Stardust is about as folksy as you can get, though it doesn’t have much of that spooky element that I also love about Neil Gaiman. The Graveyard Book and The Ocean at the End of the Lane are still my favorite Gaiman stories, but Stardust doesn’t come far behind them. Like the other two, Stardust features a young protagonist, but is not necessarily aimed at a younger audience. In the interview at the end of the audiobook version that I listened to, Neil Gaiman makes it clear that he views Stardust as a book for adults, though its main character is only eighteen, which would lead many to categorize it as YA. (It’s certainly shelved as such by over a thousand readers on Goodreads). One of Neil Gaiman’s great talents is writing stories that transcend age and appeal to a wide audience.
Speaking of the audiobook, I absolutely recommend listening to any of Neil Gaiman’s works narrated by the author himself. Gaiman has a great reading voice (and a delightful accent!). The audiobook also comes with bonus material at the end like the interview mentioned above and a brief chapter of another story that Gaiman started to write set in the village of Wall. As much as I loved the audiobook, however, listening to it meant that I missed out on the lovely illustrations by Charles Vess that accompanied the original edition published by DC Comics. Perhaps someday I will go back and read the illustrated version as well.
Have you read Stardust? What did you think? What is your favorite Neil Gaiman book? Let me know in the comments! And if my review intrigued you, you can buy a copy of Stardust from an independent bookstore while also supporting The Gothic Library by clicking the affiliate link below: