This book could have gone horribly wrong, become insufferably twee, but somehow, it didn't. Neil Gaiman's Stardust is a lovely little fairy tale. It's one of those books that as soon as you finish it, it sort of drifts away like fairy dust, but you will still want to pick it up again and re-read it sometime.
The Faerie market day, from Chris Jamison, Charles Vess image page
The story starts out in the Victorian-era village of Wall, which seems set in a time even older than Victorian England. This is most likely due to what's on the other side of the town and a literal wall, the land of Faerie: "In the tranquil fields and meadows of long-ago England, there is a small hamlet that has stood on a jut of granite for 600 years. Just to the east stands a high stone wall, for which the village is named. Here, in the hamlet of Wall, young Tristran Thorn has lost his heart to the hauntingly beautiful Victoria Forester. And here, one crisp October eve, Tristran makes his love a promise—an impetuous vow that will send him through the only breach in the wall, across the pasture... and into the most exhilarating adventure of his life."
Young Tristran starts his journey with one goal—to win a beautiful girl by bringing her a fallen star. Gaiman is able to mix the flowery phrasing of fairytales with more contemporary speech patterns and attitudes to create a fairy tale for adults that is frequently funny. That should be no surprise to anyone familiar with Gaiman's work, as humor often plays a big part in his otherworldly novels, such as Neverwhere. His American Gods was a great mix of mythology and road-trip novel, with wonderfully sassy characters.
The fallen star Yvaine, by Charles Vess, from Green Man Press
"And there was a voice, a high clear, female voice, which said "Ow", and then, very quietly, it said "Fuck", and then it said "Ow", once more." Tristran has no idea that the star is actually a being until he meets her. He soon discovers that he is not the only one who is after her. A witch and her sisters believe that the heart of a star will help restore their youth and beauty.
Gaiman is definitely paying homage to Tolkien with some talking trees, as well as some other nods to fantasy-related classics, but Stardust is all his own. It's a mythical quest, where the quest turns out to be the least important aspect of the story. I read the novel version, but would now like to check out the beautifully illustrated edition he did with artist Charles Vess.
There was a movie made a few years back that has some major differences to Gaiman's book, mostly in the beefing-up of Robert DeNiro's sky-pirate character (he's a hoot). The film may not be quite as magical as the original, but it's fun, and any introduction to Gaiman's work is worthwhile.
Stardust is definitely a coming-of-age story with Tristran as its hero, but the female characters are the ones that make the most impact. The star Yvaine who glows with love, the cat-eared Una who is mother of Tristran, the witch-queen who hunts Yvaine, and the girl who starts it all, shallow Victoria, whose careless words send Tristran on the quest that will change his and many others' lives. Neil Gaiman supposedly would like to go back and revisit the village of Wall at some point and I would definitely be up for another trip there, too.
"Tristan and Yvaine were happy together. Not forever-after, for Time, the thief, eventually takes all things into his dusty storehouse, but they were happy, as these things go, for a long while"
Quotes from Goodreads
Book #5 in reading challenge Cannonball Read 3, sponsored by Pajiba