Fiction Reviews


(1999 / 2021) Neil Gaiman, Headline, £8.99, pbk, 241pp, ISBN 978-0-755-32282-4


This is a welcome (2021) reprint of Neil Gaiman's 1999 novel that, a decade later, became a film.

Unlike other Neil Gaiman novels, which have been expanded to become the “author’s approved text”, or spawn sequel stories involving some of the major characters, such as the two long stories featuring Shadow from American Gods and another starring the Marquis de Carabas from Neverwhere, no such embellishments or additions have been made to the text of Stardust, or the novel’s major characters, although the novel has gone on to have other lives in the form of a series of comics, collected as a graphic novel, and more famously, the aforesaid film. I would stick my neck out to say there is no need to add anything as Stardust is quite perfect as it is. It’s not a long novel, but here Gaiman has gone for quality over quantity as the text overflows with all sorts of asides and details that could easily have been expanded and certainly gets the reader’s mind going.

A book is not a film, and a film is not a book, and while many people cite the example of Peter Benchley’s blockbuster novel Jaws, being an example of the film being better than the book, I can easily imagine readers coming to Stardust for the first time having seen the film being slightly disappointed in the novel.  Why?  Well, for a start Robert De Nero’s cross-dressing, sky-captain hardly features in the novel, nor is the witty and clever depiction of the surviving sons of the late Lord of Stormhold – as they try to get to the prize as quickly as possible, with barely a glance at the brother they have dispatched – handled in the same way. However, as someone who read the book first and then saw the film, I was disappointed that some wonderful scenes didn’t make it from the page to the big screen, particularly the ending which is bittersweet and tinged with tragedy.

What Gaiman delivers here is a fairy tale set next to a fairy realm, which exists on the other side of a large stone wall next to the village of Wall.  There is an opening in the wall, but it is always guarded except for every nine years when humans and fairy meet at a market where wonders can be bought and sold.  Tristran Thorn is drawn to the market and that fairy-realm for the simple reason he is half-fairy himself, conceived two markets earlier by a tryst between his father and a bewitching fairy servant.  Now as a 17-year-old trying to woo the beautiful Victoria Forester, he offers to bring her the star they see falling far beyond the wall, and if he does, she will do anything he desires, thus a quest begins.

But the star is not some smouldering, sparkling rock, but a beautiful young girl called Yvaine, who has a broken leg, and a bit of a temper, having fallen so far and her mood isn’t helped by almost immediately being captured by Tristran who somehow must get the two of them across the fairy realm and back to the wall.  Of course, there are others who covet Yvaine, in particular the witch sisters know as the Lilim who know that by eating the heart of a star they can regain their youth and beauty, and the Lords of Stormhold seek the stone around her neck (which knocked her out of the sky), for the Lord who can recover the stone can claim the kingdom and woe betide any Lord, or brother, who gets in the way.

Compared to other Gaiman novels, Stardust is a short novel, but one which overflows with ideas and invention that are almost tossed away as juicy asides to the reader. This is Gaiman at his conversational, story-telling best as he weaves tales within tales and unites them into one satisfying conclusion. Romance, action, magic, heroism, transformations, character development, it’s all there, and in this edition there are some bonus features in the form of group discussion questions, a short interview with Gaiman himself, and the opening of a novel called “Wall” which he never finished, and probably never will.  Recommended.

Ian Hunter


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