In the vein of cult classic film The Princess Bride, Neil Gaiman presents a story in Stardust that feels at once like both a classic fairytale and something more modern, with the slightest hints of darkness around the edges. The result is a pleasant book that is enjoyable to read, but also ultimately a bit forgettable.
Stardust follows Tristran Thorn, a young man living in the town of Wall in the 1800s. In exchange for a single favor from the woman he loves, Tristran ventures out beyond the wall for which his town is named, striking out into the magical land of Faerie in search of a fallen star that he intends to bring back with him.
A wonderfully authentic voice
In the telling of Stardust, Gaiman adopts a grandfatherly writing style. The narration very much feels like an elderly person telling a story they have told many times before, and this is the book’s greatest strength. At first glance, Gaiman’s casual writing style can be easy to dismiss as simple or lazy. However, upon taking a closer look, it becomes clear that Gaiman is actually very careful with his word choice and sentence structure, with everything he writes helping to create a warm, atmospheric tone. This tone can be difficult to adjust to if you’re used to reading dark and gritty fantasy (like I am), but it’s very intentional on Gaiman’s part and makes for a smooth and enjoyable read once you’ve made the adjustment.
Traditional, yet not traditional
Reading Stardust feels very much like reading a classic fairytale. However, while adhering closely to the traditional feel of a fairytale, Gaiman creates a plot that is extraordinarily refreshing, filled with clever storytelling twists and subtle but witty humor. Stardust centers around three primary plot threads, all of them revolving around the search for the fallen star: Tristran, who seeks the star to bring back to the woman he loves; the remaining heirs to the kingdom of Stormhold, who are searching for the star because it was knocked out of the sky by the topaz which will give them rulership of Faerie; and one of three witch sisters, who is hunting down the star with the intention of using it to extend her immortality. Gaiman weaves these plot threads together with a surprising degree of cohesiveness, using them to create a wonderfully compact story that always feels relevant and never wastes a page.
Why should you read this book?
Stardust isn’t a big commitment. It’s a short book, and an easy read as well. If you like stories in the vein of The Princess Bride, I can almost guarantee you’ll enjoy Stardust. A traditional fairytale story is at the heart of this book, but the unique edge that Gaiman puts on the book, with his clever storytelling and smart writing style, makes it worth picking up for a quick read. In addition, although I recommend reading the book first, I also recommend watching the 2007 film adaptation of Stardust, which I believe is one of the best and most-overlooked fantasy films of the last decade. Although tonally similar, the book and the film differ enough in plot that they are both extremely enjoyable versions of the story.