One of the best things about summer is getting reacquainted with some of your favorite authors. I am doing that and doing it proudly this summer, starting with my good buddy Neil Gaiman (yes, we’ve met, no big deal).
All kidding aside, I am a huge fan of Gaiman’s work. He’s witty, charming, an excellent creator of character, and, perhaps most important of all, he is one of the most accessible authors I’ve ever read; each of his works offers something for everyone. I could go on and on about any of his books, but today I’d like to tell you about his 1998 novel Stardust.
Set in the 19th century English village of Wall, Stardust concerns a young man named Tristran Thorn and his adventures into the world of Faerie. The novel playfully utilizes familiar fairy-tale tropes, such as the lover’s rash promise. In Stardust, this promise becomes the impetus for our hero’s quest; after promising to retrieve a fallen star for his one true love, Tristran sets off for adventure and fortune.
As always, I love the world Gaiman sets up here. This one is a bit different from his other novels, which usually feature a real-world setting with fantasy elements. The world of Stardust, however, is pure fairy-tale. We’ve got witches, unicorns, princes, kingdoms, flying ships––all the good stuff. It’s quite imaginative, and Gaiman manages to pack a great deal of content into only 250 pages or so. He also juggles numerous characters in those few pages, yet manages to make them all feel relevant to the plot.
Those characters include, among others, a nameless witch with a thing for sharp knives, and seven squabbling brothers (four dead, three still alive) who gleefully off each other for their father’s throne. These seven are my favorites, especially the youngest, Septimus. He’s so evil in such a casual way that you can’t help but like him. Tristran Thorn is another great character, despite being “ordinary as cheese-crumbs.” His evolution into a hero is all the more satisfying when you consider where he started.
I really enjoyed reading this novel, though I must say, I did not care for the ending. Without spoiling anything, I felt there was a complete tonal shift in the last twenty pages, leaving us with an awfully depressing conclusion. I mean it. I was really bummed out. I’ve got nothing against unhappy endings, but after such a whimsical, lighthearted ride, I didn’t expect to get off feeling so sad.
Neil Gaiman does it again with Stardust, a unique, thoroughly entertaining ode to the fairy tale.