-by Neil Gaiman
-reviewed by Hrishabh Sehrawat
“It’s not hard to own something. Or everything. You just have to know that it’s yours, and then be willing to let it go.”
With words like these, Neil Gaiman pulls you into his dream of the Faerie realm where he becomes a magician, and you, the reader, the audience. Going into the book, I did not carry with me the burden of expectation for this Pre-Tolkien-esque era Fantasy, for far too long my judgement of fantasy has been biased by the extensive world-building of Mr. Tolkien, which redefined what fantasy can do. But the “fairy tale for adults” felt like a long-lost friend, and did I mention how quick of a read this book was?
The story is of multiple scenes running parallel to one another and then culminating into a sort of single tale with no well-defined climax. The story is of one Tristan Thorn in the town of Wall, who promises, to the “love of his life”, a fallen star, in return for her hand in marriage. He crosses the Wall, which is quite-literally a wall, that separates normal world, from the magical world of Faerie, a world of magic, of wonders, of witches, of trolls, of unicorns, of fallen stars. He encounters friends, old witches, ship that sails in the sky, air-captains, mean-spirited kings, and The star. What follows is magic woven into words, that never felt out of place as a prop.
Gaiman is less of an author and more of a theatre artist, the way he words his chapters. Where each chapter is an episode on its own, that can be narrated as a bedtime story of its own, with merry endings to each chapter. The magic is beautiful, but at times it felt too less to enjoy, it felt as if someone just put too less sugar in the tea called stardust.
The difference between Stardust and other fantasy novels I’m fond of, is that it spends no time in world-building and dives head-first into the story. But that’s not to say that the world of Faerie is a lacklustre world, far from it, it has the wonders to intrigue one every single time they’ll cross over the scene. But as a reader, you will feel every now and then, that it just isn’t that immersive of a story. There aren’t elements to make you feel that you are part of this fairy tale. It seemed that you’re looking at the events through a fisheye and not being present there yourself. This might not bug the 13 year old me who watched the movie, which by the way is better than the book (there I said it, I mean Claire Danes, come on), but the present me felt out of place after finishing the book.
Often this book is seen as an ode to the darker Grimms’ fairy tales, the adult elements and the dark(er) undertones justify that. There is blood, violence, swearing (precisely once) and sex scenes. But they aren’t there just for the sake of it. They provide a flow to the plot and contribute to the imagery in hand. The thing Stardust did phenomenally was giving all the characters a properly groomed character that never felt flat. This is a facet where Stardust, the movie, failed spectacularly. This also becomes a bane when we saw the characters becoming rigid to their core about their principles, barring Tristan, our protagonist. He too only changed his views when he was questioned by liking he developed for the star, Yvaine. While not taking away anything from the tale, it felt flat to me as a reader, with no character arcs to mention, no questions about morality of the characters involved.
What bugged me most was the pointless twist introduced towards the end of the story to tie in all the knots that have been running parallel to each other since page one of the book. Was it a pleasant surprise? Maybe. Did it add anything to the story? Nope. Could it have been better had that twist not happened? Definitely. It wasn’t as if it was a bad surprise, it just felt unnecessary, and a gotcha moment by the author.
But well it’s a fairy tale. Everything needs a happy ending these days. Tolkien would be proud of this ending.
To take a quote from the book to end this review, this is basically how I felt when anyone wanted anything done from me while I was reading this book.
“Have been unavoidably detained by the world. Expect us when you see us.”
Aesthetic: 9 /10
Character Development: 7/10