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Stardust | Neil Gaiman | 2012, 270 pages | Fiction/Fantasy
This small, radiant, adult fairy tale is truly a pearl of great price. Neil Gaiman has taken the traditional narrative of the hero’s quest, dusted it off, shined it up, and powered it with pure, straightforward and sparkling language, to create a fairy tale that can be enjoyed by anyone from teens through every age of adulthood.
Tristran Thorn lives in a traditional small town named for, and next to, a great stone wall that divides Victorian England from the land of Faerie. The entrance is guarded diligently by a regular rotation of townspeople, intent not upon keeping the inhabitants of Faerie out, but keeping the inhabitants of Wall from straying in. When he and the young woman he loves see a star fall above the land of Faerie, Tristran makes the rashest of promises – that he will go there, and bring back the fallen star to her, in return for her promise to grant him “anything he desires.” And so the quest begins.
Nothing on this quest is what it seems – trees can contain dryads, birds can be transformed people, clouds are places that can be inhabited, for a while, at least. Most of all, the fallen star is not a glowing ball of gas, nor a lump of rock, but a lovely young woman, who broke her leg upon impact and is extremely grouchy in consequence.
The complex dance of characters who are all, in one way or another, in pursuit of Tristran and his fallen star, resolves itself, finally, in revelations from both sides of the wall. This being a modern fairy tale, there is no “happily ever after” for, as Neil Gaiman writes: “for time, the thief, eventually takes all things into his dusty storehouse, but they were happy, as these things go, for a long while.”
Which is as it should be.