Overall Impression: Questionable world building with lacklustre characters; held together by imagination and flair.
I have mixed feelings about this book. On the one hand 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
Character Development: 3/5
Would I recommend this book? Meh. Possibly..
P.S. Want to know more? Why not check out Maggie’s thoughts on Stardust too? 🙂
Stardust Book Cover: http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/1778908.Stardust