Saturday, February 16, 2013

Sara's Library: Stardust

Stardust by Neil Gaiman
Original publication: Avon Books 1998
This edition: William Morrow 2006
Locus Award for Best Fantasy Novel Nominee 1999
Mythopoeic Fantasy Award for Adult Literature 1999

In a village called Wall, so named for the wall between our world and that of the faeries situated nearby, a Faerie Market is held every nine years.  In 1839, Dunstan Thorn goes to the market to procure a gift for his love, Daisy.  After purchasing a crystal flower from one stall, he ends up having intimate relations with the stall-girl.  He marries Daisy shortly after the market, and in February the next year, a baby boy (presumably the result of his tryst with the stall-girl) is left at their doorstep.

Seventeen years later, the boy, Tristran, foolishly tells his heart's desire that he will find and claim a fallen star, which the two had seen fall earlier, as a gift for her.  He enters the world of Faerie and soon discovers that the star is not a dead space-rock, as we would expect, but a living, breathing girl named Yvaine -- though it should be mentioned that were she to ever cross the wall she would  become a space-rock.  Although at first Tristran intends to give Yvaine to Victoria, his ladylove, during the course of their travels he comes to view Yvaine as a person, not an object.

Two other characters in pursuit of the star round out the cast: a witch who wishes to gain immortality by snatching the star's heart, and the Lord of Stormhold, who is searching for a lost topaz in the star's possession.  The various encounters between the protagonists and these two account for most of the tension in the novel.

The two protagonists, Tristran and Yvaine, are both written rather believably and often have snappy dialogue, as is usual for characters attributed to Mr. Gaiman.  In the hands of a less capable writer, the story would have seemed too far-fetched and easily become asinine drivel.  But even the non-fantasy reader should be able to enjoy this tale, styled after the early fantasy novels of the Victorian era, yet accessible to modern readers by avoiding overly long and overly dry passages.

I will say that when I first read this I was not at all in the mood for a breezy fantasy, so I do caution potential readers to be in the right frame-of-mind when choosing this title.  Stardust isn't groundbreaking, but it is a beautiful homage to fantasies of the past.

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