Wednesday, 8 November 2000

Neil Gaiman: Stardust (1999)

Edition: Headline, 1999
Review number: 677

Stardust is a remarkable homage to Lord Dunsany and other Victorian writers of tales about the lands "beyond the fields we know". Wall is much like other isolated English villages of the mid nineteenth century, except for the wall which gives it its name and for the unusual fair held there once every nine years. That is the only time that the gap in the wall is left unguarded, and sellers of all kinds of wonders come from the land of Faerie beyond the wall.

Tristram Thorn is typical of the village's young men, and like the rest of them he has fallen in love with the local beauty, Victoria Forester. While he is walking with her, they see a star fall in Faerie, and she promises him his heart's desire if he retrieves it for her. The plot seems to develop along standard fairy tale lines until he reaches the star, which turns out to be a young woman with a broken leg from the fall and not the stone he was expecting. To bring back a young woman - who objects strongly - instead of an inanimate object is not the task he expected, and it is from this point that Stardust begins to offer a new slant on a familiar idea.

There is the odd joke here and there, and Stardust is generally a light-hearted novel, but it is atmospheric as well. The major characters are believable, and the whole thing manages to delight in the way that the best children's fiction does while being clearly an adult novel. It works far better than Neverwhere, where Gaiman is struggling to describe what is a strongly visual experience without swamping the rest of the ingredients of the novel.

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