I have heard Stardust described as a fairy tale for adults, and I think that is as succinct a description as you might find for this highly entertaining novel. It is classic, and has a timeless feel to it while at the same time incorporating darker themes and a more modern, humorous and subtle style of prose. For my first foray into Neil Gaiman’s writing I was suitably impressed.
I love the mixture of magic, adventure, intrigue and romance that Stardust incorporates within its pages. No one element overpowers the others. I was rooting for the main characters, anticipating the downfall of the villains and enchanted by the story. The imagery used whenever we encounter a new setting really drew me in too and even small things like the glass flowers were vividly described.
With the fantasy genre so popular and certain comparisons unavoidable, it’s easy to understand why a few people feel as though some of the elements of the story are not that unique. The quest storyline may be well trodden ground but so much of the journey (in search of a fallen star no less) is entirely uncharted territory. I think that Gaiman does a good job of making his particular brand of witches, princes and faeries unique to his world. True, there are details that are a tad silly but that’s all part of the fun of the novel: no matter how bizarre things get, he makes them work.
I also want to say that I personally really liked the ending of the book. I can see why not everybody would but the way it felt grounded in reality pulled me in to the story more. Usually when faced with an immortal, unkillable force the inexperienced protagonist is somehow able to destroy the bad guy and rid the world of evil, which is all fine for a while but after a point becomes increasingly unbelievable. Stardust isn’t like that and I was almost relieved to read a more benign ending that I could genuinely picture happening.
I don’t actually have any major criticisms of the book that I think would stop me wanting to re-read it again. What I will say is that the novel definitely feels more adult compared to some of the stuff I’ve read before. This was not only because it had ‘adult themes’, but because of the way the story was structured. The narrative threads of different characters all seemed very separate and kind of detached from one another and the pacing sometimes felt a little slow. This certainly impacted how quickly I was able to read it; for a relatively short book it took me a fair while to get through. But I would say that I thought this made it feel more realistic – ironically, for a book about magic – and I enjoyed it all the more for the fact that I didn’t have to suspend by disbelief too much. Aside from some slightly predictable plot points I think you’d be hard pushed to find much to complain about.
I certainly had a tricky time deciding on a rating for this book but overall I’d settle on three and a half stars. As a warning I wouldn’t recommend this to anyone who is uncomfortable with mature themes like gore, sex and the like, but other than that it was a short, engaging, very well written book and I really liked it. Perhaps now I should go and watch the film!