Stardust by Neil Gaiman Review 3/5

Overall Impression: Questionable world building with lacklustre characters; held together by imagination and flair.

I have mixed feelings about this book. On the one handstardust by neil gaiman it was innovative, quirky, and magical, not to mention a lot of lighthearted fun. But on the other hand…I just felt like it could have been so much more.

In the sleepy English countryside at the dawn of the Victorian era, life moves at a leisurely pace in the tiny town of Wall. Young Tristan Thorn has lost his heart to the beautiful Victoria Forester, but Victoria is cold and distant as the star she and Tristan see fall from the sky one evening. For the prize of Victoria’s hand, Tristan vows to retrieve the star for his beloved. It is an oath that sends the lovelorn swain over the town’s ancient wall and into a world that is dangerous and strange beyond imagining…

Tristan Thorn is an awkward teen living in Wall, a secluded village which acts as the border between our world, and faerie (and contrary to popular culture these faeries do not fly around with the help of wings, nor are they small.) One day every nine years, the Faerie Market appears and the residents of Wall are allowed to cross the boundaries and revel in the mysteries and oddities of Faerie. However by the next day the land behind the wall is once again off limits, and a rotation of guards keep it impregnable. So when Tristan declares he will retrieve the fallen star from over the wall for his love Victoria, she laughs him off as a silly dreamer. However, for reasons not entirely understood on Tristan part, he is granted passage into faerie with very little objection. He sets about his task with purpose, but hits a curve ball when he discovers the star is not the hunk of rock he was expecting, but a blonde sassy female with a broken leg.

Meanwhile three brothers seek the star for another reason; to retrieve the Power of Stormhold and claim their place on the throne. But hidden in the depths of the woods are also a vicious group of old witches intent on seeking the star, for her heart will provide them with the youth they so dearly desire.
The question is, who will succeed?

Neil Gaiman’s writing style is so interesting! It’s quirky and unusual, and therefore lends itself excellently to the fairytale genre. Throughout the first half of the book I kept stopping just to appreciate some of his phrases, he improves simple sentences by switching the wording around in innovative ways that would never even occur to me. I forgot to mark the page, but I think the phrase was ‘the water shook the stars’  which he used to describe the reflection of the sky in a lake. That just struck me as a perfect example of his unique writing and turn of phrase. I mean…how does he come up with that?! I’m so jealous! He has such a distinctive voice as well, the whole book has this playful, amusing feel to it. This description should give you a taster:

‘Tristen Thorn, at the age of seventeen, and only six months older than Victoria, was half the way between a boy and a man, and was equally uncomfortable in either role; he seemed to be composed chiefly of elbows and Adam’s apples with a constellation of acne-spots across his right cheeks. His hair was the brown of sodden straw, and it stuck out at awkward, seveteen-year-old angles, wet and comb it howsoever much tried.’ 

Gaiman’s writing was by far the most enjoyable part of the book, and made up for a lot of the other issues I had with Stardust. Unfortunately, I felt like it was an uphill battle to dress up what to me, felt like sloppy world building. Gaiman creates this fascinating world from the very first page of the book, and yet I feel like he fails to develop it. The wall dividing the two words is intriguing, but why is it there? How long has it been there? What led to the wall being built? I can assume, or imagine, but I will never actually know. Another issue I had is that the people on the other side of Wall are labeled ‘Faerie’, but not once as far as I noticed are we told what classes someone as Faerie. Each character met on their side is completely different – a hairy man, a female with purple eyes, and some witches to name a few. So I presume Faerie is used as an umbrella term for anyone unusual or slightly mystical. But who knows? It is never explained. I feel like the author needed to set some laws for his world to give me something to grab onto. But then again, it is in its essence a fairytale, and rarely do we get answers in fairytales nor do the stories tend to make sense. But even taking this into account, I don’t think it works. I want to know more dammit! I’m inquisitive!

I found the plot intriguing to start with. Unfortunately my interest fizzled out as the book progressed. I have a strong feeling that at least part of this was due to the fact that I saw the movie first before reading the book. (Gah, don’t you hate it when that happens?). Although, this is one of those rare cases where I actually enjoyed the film more than the book.
I really appreciated the effort put into researching Stardust. It is clear that Gaiman knows his fairytales, and you can see that he has taken his time to add in all the typical conventions (it was especially noticeable for me having just readThe Complete Fairytales by the Brothers Grimm). He incorporates several references to existing fairytales such as Snow White, The Three Bears, Jack and the Beanstalk, the Welsh tale of Blodeuedd as well as some much appreciated crossroads mythology.
I also quite enjoyed his social commentary on the way young adults can perceive people and the world around them, it actually reminded me a little of a particular scene in The Great Gatsby. I liked how certain characters represented everything Tristen thought that he wanted on a superficial level, and yet what he actually needed turned out to be something different entirely.

Characters…..hmmm where to start. Aggh, I was so frustrated! They all had great potential, but didn’t live up to it in my opinion. My issues with the characters were exactly the same as the world building. Gaiman sets up wonderfully quirky individuals that would normally create a winning novel in my eyes, but after the initial setup I found that they became bland quickly. I think this had a lot to do with the dialogue. It seemed so mundane and lacked the quirky imagination that he employed in his descriptions. Intrigue! Puns! Where art thou?! I didn’t feel included in the story, I wasn’t invested in the characters and although I hate to admit it, I wasn’t really that bothered about what would happen to them in the end either – good or bad.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s not a bad book; it’s just not a fantastic book either. There were strokes of genius, a lot of great ideas and some fantastic writing but there were just too many problems with it for me to fully enjoy it. I would recommend Stardust to those looking for a fun lighthearted read and also those who aren’t as bothered about the workings behind the stories. Both males and females 13+ will enjoy it. 🙂

Writing Style: 4/5
Originality: 4/5
Entertainment: 3/5
Character Development: 3/5
Would I recommend this book? Meh. Possibly..

Overall 3/5

P.S. Want to know more? Why not check out Maggie’s thoughts on Stardust too? 🙂

Image Sources:
Stardust Book Cover:

41 thoughts on “Stardust by Neil Gaiman Review 3/5

  1. I think this is one of those books where it’s better to read the book and then see the movie. Because that’s how I approached it and really liked the book- and then was blown away by how awesome the movie was.
    I definitely agree that Gaiman’s writing is the strongest part of the book- it’s exactly the right tone and voice for a ‘fairy tale for adults’ as he described it. And though I agree with you about the characters, I didn’t mind that because in most fairy tales the characters are more archetypes than actual personalities, so I didn’t mind the flatness- it seemed to fit with the whimsical but detached voice of the narrator.
    I actually didn’t mind that there wasn’t much explanation for the world or the magic, mostly because of the fairy tale aspect- in fairy tales of course there’s a flying lightning ship, why not? So I actually enjoyed that all the things we found so bizarre were presented as so commonplace and everyday in the other world.
    Very nice review, by the way 🙂 though I think we’ll have to agree to disagree on quality 😛 Plus, I adore great words and phrases in my fiction, so anything that incorporates that will get many a pass from me in other areas, if it can make the English language beautiful.

    • Yeah I agree, I really do feel that viewing the film first affected my thoughts on the book. That’s why normally I always want to read the book before seeing the film. Grr!
      I totally understand what you are saying about the characters. I recognized that he was trying to write them in keeping with the fairy tale genre as I was reading it, and although I applaud his efforts to do that and make a modern day fairy tale of sorts, I just have to be honest and say that it didn’t work for me really. But that is not down to him but rather my personal preferences. I hope that sort of came across in my review. 🙂

      Thank you very much, 🙂 I enjoyed your review as well. It is after all, the reason I decided to read it. 😉 Haha that’s ok, sometimes it makes things more interesting when people disagree, it makes you think a lot harder about the reasons you liked or disliked a book!

  2. I read the book first, a long long time ago, well actually I read the graphic novels and when I heard they released it as a book I was bummed because, what?! No pictures…the story was meant to go with the pictures dang it! And, though I haven’t read it as just a book (do you hear the minor scorn? 🙂 ) I felt it would be too light or something would feel missing…plus I think I am more forgiving of comics, exactly how fleshed out can they be – ya know?!
    Anyway – I loved the movie too – but I think I should reread the graphic novels – I just found them stuck in a corner and have been itching to open them up.
    Wonderful review!! If you get a chance, read them with the art…awesome stuff.

    • There’s a graphic novel version? Wow, that sounds so cool! It’s such a visual book as well, so I bet there were a lot of cool pictures. 🙂 Ha, I do indeed detect the scorn. It certainly did feel like there was something missing, well, several key things really which I mentioned in the review lol. It was a little frustrating because I wanted to love it, but things kept getting in the way of that. :/

      Yay, glad you liked the movie! If I had watched it when I was younger I probably would have been obsessed with it… lol.
      Thank you! 😀 I definitely will if I get the chance, it sounds cool!

  3. I have a friend who suggested I read Gaiman’s work. She said I would get a kick out of it, but I’m not familiar with it or him at all (I know he wrote an episode of Dr. Who…). At some point I’ll add him to my ever-growing TBR list and I’ll give this one a whirl first.

    I love that character description, that’s classy!

    • Ohh really? That’s cool, it seems that a lot of people really love his work, I hadn’t heard of him until recently either. 🙂
      I had no clue that he wrote an episode of Dr Who, so that’s new one on me!

      Haha yeah tell me about it, my book wishlist is just as big as my to read pile! It’s an ongoing problem. :S

      Thanks for commenting Tony. 🙂

  4. Great review, Becky. I loved the film but haven’t read the book. In fact, I haven’t read anything by Gaiman so I should rectify that. I do like the short snippet you provided. His quirky and whimsical writing style would definitely appeal to me.
    Hope uni is going well for you.

    • Thanks Emma. 🙂 I loved the film as well, when I originally saw it I didn’t realize that it was based on a book, I was quite surprised when I found out! I think you should, a lot of people seem to really love his work, although I’ve only read this one book. His writing was my favourite part. 🙂

    • Ahh that’s fair enough. 🙂 Although for the record I always avoid major spoilers, or label very clearly when I’m about to mention one so you don’t need to worry about that. 🙂 But I get what you mean, I avoided all reviews of The Hunger Games before I read it because I wanted to be surprised and form my own opinion.

      Looking forward to hearing your thoughts on Stardust in the future!

  5. This book made me want to see the movie, too. I very much enjoy Gaimann’s work! You should try some of his other titles, especially “The Graveyard Book,” “Coraline,” and maybe even “Odd and the Frost Giants.” Some of the others, like “American Gods” and “The Anansi Boys,” and “Neverwhere” are good in a different way.

    • I did really enjoy the movie, I think it actually improved on the book in terms of plot, for instance I felt the book fizzled out a bit at the end whereas the film has more of a grand finalie.
      Yeah, I’ve heard that Stardust is quite different from his other work, is that true? I am definitely interested in trying some of his other work in the future. 🙂 Thanks for the suggestions, I will keep them in mind!

      • I think “The Graveyard Book” is a tad similar with its main character being a young man, but it was wonderful in comparison. It is quite different but actually sold me on Gaiman. His other novels aimed more at adult readers, still in the supernatural-ish or fantasy realm. “Graveyard” lead me to read “Odd and the Frost Giants” to my young son, and I’ve heard it’s being made into a movie. Coraline in movie form looks very Tim Burton-like, but I have yet to watch it. The book was good.

  6. I agree with almost everything Katybrandes just posted. I say almost because I haven’t read Odd and the Frost Giants or Coraline (although I love the movie-version of the latter). Also, I felt the same way about Neverwhere that you did about Stardust. Thanks for reviewing the book.

    • Good to know, it’s interesting for me because I’ve never heard any of these titles before. Odd and the Frost Giants is a pretty interesting name! Neil Gaiman’s quirky style even makes it into his titles. Lol.
      Ohh really that’s interesting, do you think you will read Stardust now or give it a miss?

      No problem, it was my pleasure. 🙂

      • I will give Stardust a miss because I don’t want a repeat of my Neverwhere experience.

        And yeah, Gaiman’s writing style is cool; I’ll have to read Odd and the Frost Giants someday since it is his latest work.

      • That’s fair enough, it wouldn’t be a book that I would automatically suggest to my friend, so that says it all really. Good, but not quite good enough for me personally…

        I hope you enjoy it if you give it a go. 🙂

      • Probably. Happens all the time to me.
        I bought both The Reader and Fight Club, a couple of weeks ago. Never read the novels, but I loved the movies. So I was expecting to be blown away by the books, especially Fight Club.
        ..I wasn’t.

      • Ohh no, sorry to hear that…. I have actually been considering buying Fight Club the book because I really enjoyed the film. Hmmm…maybe not now! Lol. I really hate it when that happens.
        Books should always come before the movie in my opinion. 😛

    • Haha!
      Awwwh thank you 😀 you’ll make me blush lol.
      I’m glad to hear you’re enjoy my posts. I really wish I could post more, but life seems to be getting in the way lately.. *sigh* Hopefully I’ll get back to my normal schedule soon though. 🙂

  7. Interesting review. I loved this book, it seems for the same reasons you hated it.
    To me, it seemed to be a very huge fairytale, and reading it through that lens, it worked fine.

    No one ever really worries about where the three bears were on their walk, or why the old lady lived in the shoe. For me, this was the same, and the level of detail for the story (moral?) he was telling worked fine for me.
    I’ve read this a couple of times, and always enjoyed it.

    • Thanks, in a good way I hope. 😛
      I’m glad you enjoyed the book! I always find it intriguing when that happens, I remember thinking a similar thing about Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins and my friends reasons for disliking it. I felt so frustrated that she didn’t feel the power of it the way I did, lol.

      I wholeheartedly agree with what your saying, and I did recognize that as I was reading it, but as a novel I just have to be honest and say that it didn’t work for me on a personal level. I couldn’t get past my issues with it, all the while understanding that Gaiman couldn’t have written it any other way. I was at a bit of an impasse to be honest! However I’m glad that you were able to get something out of it that I couldn’t. 🙂

  8. I just read my first Neil Gaiman book, “Neverwhere.” I think it’s probably the most bizarre book I’ve ever read. But if you keep reading, the bizarre starts to become normal. And I agree with you about his writing. There were a number of things he said that made me stop in surprise. “I think that same thing, too!”

    I had never heard of him until I watched his commencement address (look it up on YouTube if you are any sort of writer or artist or creative person; it’s the most inspirational thing you will ever hear!), and I liked what he had to say so much, I had to pick up the book. I think “Neverwhere” was the first novel he wrote with the intention of it being a novel (as opposed to a graphic novel).

    • Hi Keri 🙂 I have to agree with you, bizarre is another good way of describing his writing, but in a good way. I think it really helps draw you into the story and the world that he creates. I have never heard of Neverwhere, I might have to look that one up.

      Oooh, I will definitely look it up, thank you. That sounds great! I actually found a copy of his American Gods in a charity shop the other day, so of course I had to buy it lol. I’m really looking forward to seeing how it compares with Stardust, and it has such a pretty cover as well. 🙂

      Thanks for commenting!

  9. I’ve found that the best thing about Gaiman’s books are 1) the writing style and 2) the idea. Quirky is the perfect word to describe his style and I love it! However, I do have to be in the mood for it. His ideas are wonderful, magical, strange, intriguing and that word again – quirky but I sometimes feel that he doesn’t quite manage to pull it off. There’s always something missing… I’ve only read Fragile Things and Neverwhere though, so will have to read more to see if I feel the same about his other books.
    I have a feeling that I’ll be disappointed with Stardust because I also really enjoyed the film! It’s got that magical, fairytale quality. I always watch it around Christmas time, when I’m feeling more in the mood for that sort of thing!

    Thanks for the honest review!

    • I 100% agree, and yeah I think quirky is definitely the best way to describe it. No matter what part of the review I was writing I just kept wanting to add quirky to each sentence, I was starting to worry about my range of vocabulary, lol! 🙂
      I also completely agree with what you’ve said about mood. At times I would pick the book up and be really into it (more towards the beginning) but other times I would read bits a just think – don’t be so silly, or that’s a bit immature ha.

      I remember reading one of your Neil Gaiman reviews and thinking it was really good, but I can’t remember which book it was. I will be interested to see your thoughts on Stardust if you ever get around to reading it, I hope you enjoy it more than I did. 🙂

      Thank you! Honest is what I pride myself on 😛 I don’t see the point in reviews that aren’t, they aren’t that useful to readers.

  10. Pingback: Actually Preferred The Movie | Hopeful Happiness

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