Review – Stardust

Posted October 7, 2018 by Nicky in Reviews / 7 Comments

Cover of Stardust by Neil GaimanStardust, Neil Gaiman

My wife was rewatching Stardust, so the urge was there and I… gave in. I read it in the space of a couple of hours, drugged to the gills on antitussive meds (aka codeine-based painkillers, so probably my familiarity with the book is a good thing; I don’t think I was up to the heights of intellectualism at that point).

It’s tempting to imagine that everyone knows all about Neil Gaiman by this point… all the same, what is Stardust? It’s a light-ish novel which is somewhat based on fairytales: Tristan is sort of a changeling child (not switched for a human child, but he’s half-fairy in a human world), and he goes through a fairly typical quest narrative, learns to take help from the people he meets, etc. At the same time, there’s wicked witches, people go off seeking their true loves, and there’s a kingdom with seven sons who have to fight out the succession. It’s a bundle of fairytale/fantasy tropes, dealt with in a self-aware and sometimes rather wry manner (Tristan is decidedly Wrong, for example, about the identity of his true love).

It’s a bit more morally complex than the movie, and perhaps has less of an emotional payoff because of that. I don’t honestly have a preference: I think the book is clever, but the movie is the kind of story that cheers me up. It has some interesting background stuff that I’d love to know more about (the Castle thing? What’s going on there!), but for all that I said it’s more morally complex than the movie, it stays pretty focused on Tristan’s quest and his path to a fairytale ending. It’s not really a complex story: it even skips over a ton of the potential development for Yvaine and Tristan’s relationship in a couple of pages.

It’s clever and amusing, but maybe not quite the epitome of wonderfulness I thought it was a few years ago. The love story isn’t all that epic because it kind of just happens, sort of inevitably; there are surprising depths to the characters at some points (Victoria in the book is more complex and interesting, in the end, than in the movie; Tristan’s human mother actually exists and has complex feelings about him), but… but…

I don’t know. I’m less wowed than I used to be. It’s still absorbing and charming and I do enjoy it very much.

Rating: 4/5

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7 responses to “Review – Stardust

  1. I also re-read this recently. I think an enormous amount of its wonderfulness is in the narrative voice, and always has been. There’s a kind of magic in a story that just tells you, briefly and beautifully, about other stories that intersect it. The Neverending Story does it. The Princess Bride does it. The movie Amelie does it. (As do some other movies: Miracles, Run Lola Run, A Very Long Engagement). And Stardust does it very well indeed.

    On the fifth or sixth reading, I did wonder about the Fellowship of the Castle, and it felt a little like Gaiman was setting up a bigger shared universe which never quite got written. (I seem to recall that there’s a Susanna Clarke short story which is so close to Gaiman’s Stardust universe, I was convinced it was a shared project.)

    I still think it’s a work of genius. Things fit together beautifully. It appears so simple and yet it isn’t simple to plan or write a thing like this. Its beauty is pristine. I can’t think of any other fairy tales for adults that achieve such perfection.
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  2. Hm, I think I’m due for a reread of this as well. I often forget how different the film and the book are, even though I love both. Stardust was the first Gaiman book I fell in love with and the book that I had him sign when my hometown won a contest to host him, so it’s still a pretty special book for me.
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