08 April 2007

Book Review: Stardust by Neil Gaiman

Stardust The village of Wall sits at the edge of Faerie, and once every nine years the Faery market sets up in the field beyond the wall after which the town is named. On the eve of one such event, Dunstan Thorn is promised his Heart’s Desire by a stranger. That Desire turns out to be a one-night stand with a witch’s slave, the result of which is delivered to Wall nine months later. Seventeen years after that, Tristran Thorn is head over heels in love with Victoria Forrester. Desperate to get rid of him, she promises him anything he wishes - if he brings her the star they both saw fall. Tristran promptly sets out to do just that.

The realm of Faerie soon throws up a number of surprises. Tristran discovers an uncanny ability to pinpoint the direction of any resident of Faerie he thinks of. Nursery rhymes turn out to have whole new meanings. And a star that lands in Faerie takes on human form, and a bad-tempered human at that - and one being pursued by more than just Tristran. A witch-queen wants her heart for the youth it will give her and her sisters. Madame Semele wants the heart for herself, and to spite the witch-queen. And the few surviving sons of the late eighty-first Lord of Stormhold want the necklace that knocked her out of the sky, a jewel that will cement the finder’s claim to be number eighty-two and for which each of them has killed before....

Because of the set-up required, it took a few chapters for the real story to get going, and it took a few more for the darker elements to appear. Until then, it seemed like just a fairy tale, something as light and sparkling as the glass flowers sold at the witch’s market stall. Even after the tone became more serious, the ‘fairy tale’ label stuck in my mind. But it was a charming and enjoyable fairy tale. I loved that the heroine wasn’t the sweetness and light you might expect, but cranky and prone to hurling both mud and insults. The devious and murderous potential Stormhold heirs all met fitting fates, and the clues to the identity of the missing heir were well-planted. The cleverest bit of all was the resolving of Tristran’s mother’s captivity; the terms for her release sounded improbable to impossible, yet both occurred in ways that made perfect sense once explained.

Rating: A

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Header image shows detail of A Young Girl Reading by Jean-Honoré Fragonard, c. 1776