Neil Gaiman is truly a jack-of-all-trades. You might remember him as the talented author of the SANDMAN comic book series. His talent doesn't end there, however. He has written fiction, nonfiction, graphic novels, children's books and worked as an editor. In his latest novel, STARDUST, he returns to his comic book roots and turns out a rather good fantasy.
STARDUST begins inside the city of Wall in the 19th century. Located somewhere in England, Wall is surrounded by an enormous gate and the city's sheltered inhabitants keep to themselves. The gates are only opened once every nine years to allow a traveling fair to visit on May Day.
Tristran Thorn is like every boy in love --- foolish. Young Tristran has fallen in love with beautiful Victoria Forester. He tries to get her attention, but without much luck. She simply doesn't care for him. One night, while Tristran is tying to woo her, a star falls from the sky. Tristran is so desperate that he has been making foolish promises like "I would go to Africa, and bring you diamonds the size of cricket balls. I would find the source of the Nile, and name it after you." Victoria calls him on his dare. She tells him that if he can go and find the fallen star and bring it back to her, she will marry him. Tristran is overjoyed and immediately sets out on his journey.
Tristran is not the only one who wants the star. A trio of witches see the star fall and one of them sets out to retrieve it. The heart of a star can be used to make an old person young again. The three living sons of the 81st Lord of Stormhold are also after the star. On his deathbed, the Lord of Stormhold tells his sons that whoever retrieves the star shall be the next ruler.
This is the only fantasy novel I've read that takes place in an actual period in history. The author refers to Queen Victoria and a young Charles Dickens. Once Tristran leaves Wall, the setting becomes a little muddled: He crosses mountains and encounters forests full of killer trees. Neil Gaiman appears to be making up his own version of Victorian England as he goes. It gives the story an "urban legend" feel, as if it had been passed from generation to generation.
Check out STARDUST. Some of you will pick it up because you love Neil Gaiman and his work in the comic industry. Others will like it because it's a fantasy novel. But, overall, STARDUST is just an entertaining book that's well-written to boot.
Reviewed by Patrick Hughes on January 23, 2011