Monday, 2 December 2013

Stardust, by Neil Gaiman

This novel takes place in the town of Wall, a part of the world where the Real World meets Faerie, the realm of magic.   Stardust is a book for adults set in a location that would normally host stories for children- think enchanted forests, dastardly witches, perilous mountains and wondrous folk.  No dragons, no wands and no trolls or elves, it's a refreshingly old fashioned pre-Tolkein world of wonder, general enchantment and old magic.   

Tristran, unbeknownst to himself is half human, half faerie and has never quite found his feet in the town of Wall.  He likes it well enough, but he has never really fit in.  One night, to prove his love for the aloof but incredibly beautiful Victoria Forester, he declares that he shall enter Faerie in pursuit of a fallen star that they have both seen fall from the sky. Thinking he would never dare to breach the border wall, much less succeed in returning both alive and with star, Victoria promises Trtistran a kiss and perhaps her hand in marriage should he succeed.  To the surprise of the town, Tristran sets off to retrieve the Star (a star which would turn out to be a sulky, slightly sweary blonde with a broken leg named Yvaine), going where no mortal has gone before, into the world of the magic.

Gaiman strikes an inimitable balance between traditional fairytale (both storybook and creepy original), humour, charm and fantastical action.  I can't remember the last time that I read a book that contained sword fights, unicorns, sky pirates, inter-species affairs and quite so much metamorphosis.  It's quaint. in a very British way, but also clever in its ability to populate a brand new, modern story with partially and almost-familiar characters that might or might not have wandered from the pages of a book read 30 years ago...
Tristran's a likable character, slightly befuddled and a bit dim, but we can excuse him as he is stupefied by beauty and infatuation.  He's moderately resourceful but a bit clumsy.  Yvaine, the immortal but misplaced Star is not really your average fairytale female, being a bit more willing to do her fair share of the rescuing.

The novel establishes a couple of narrative threads from the beginning: the surviving heirs of the faraway Kingdom of Stormhold- three brothers competing to the death for the chance to rule; the perilous and not always entirely consensual journey of Tristran and Yvaine, from their unguessed location back to the town of Wall; the pursuit of the Witch Queen on her goat cart, who needs the heart of a Star to regain her youth; and the meandering journey of the hermit-ish Madam Smele, evil captor and market trader. The threads of the stories are wound up brilliantly in the closing pages, which makes for a really nostalgic, satisfying read.  Good for fans of fantasy, fairytales and nostalgia and doesn't even force any Take That songs down your poor unsuspecting ears.

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