Review: Stardust, Neil Gaiman and Charles Vess

"There was once a young man who wished to gain his Heart's Desire.

And while that is, as beginnings go, not entirely novel (for every tale about every young man there ever was or will be could start in a similar manner) there was much about this young man and what happened to him that was unusual, although even he never knew the whole of it.

The tale started, as many tales have started, in Wall."

Stardust: Being a Romance Within the Realms of Faerie, Neil Gaiman and Charles Vess

Stardust is a charming, elegantly illustrated fairy tale from the World Fantasy Award-winning team of Neil Gaiman and Charles Vess. Telling the story of Tristan Thorn, a young man who finds his Heart's Desire in an unexpected place, this novel entertains the reader with some vivid and marvelous people and places.

Tristan is a seventeen year old "gangling creature of potential" when the object of his affection, Victoria Forester, names as the price of a kiss a fallen star—and not just any star, but the one they just watched fall. Rather than do as one character advises him ("I'd tell her to go shove her face in the pigpen, and go out and find another one who'll kiss you without askin' for the earth."), Tristan immediately sets off. That night, he crosses the wall between England and Faerie (the wall the town is named for) in search of the star. Of course, he does not expect the star to be a young woman who rather objects to being used as a prize; he also does not know that a fallen star is coveted by people other than love-struck boys...

Tristan's quest takes him throughout Faerie by foot, candlelight, ship of the skies, and carriage. On the way, he meets a number of people, including a unicorn, a witch-queen, a few ghosts (accompanying their murderers), someone who is mostly fur, and a handful of enchanted—persons, for lack of a more accurate term. He also discovers friendship, his heritage, and, of course, his Heart's Desire. His adventures are charmingly described by Gaiman and elegantly illustrated by 175 of Vess's paintings. Both pay attention to the details as well as (so to speak) the big picture. For instance, Gaiman tells of the star falling and how

First the light in the sky was no bigger than the moon, then it seemed larger, infinitely larger, and the whole grove trembled and quivered and every creature held its breath and the fire-flies glowed brighter than they had ever glowed in their lives, each one convinced that this at last was love, but to no avail...

Vess's paintings, particularly the four two-page spreads, are always lovely, detailed, and appropriate. Avon is publishing Stardust early in 1999 without the illustrations; while the story will stand alone perfectly well, I can't help but feel that much of the appeal will be lost.

The oversized Vertigo hardcover includes previously-unpublished Vess sketches and a ribbon bookmark for cats to pounce on. If you are looking for a last-minute Christmas gift, or you have some gift money to spend on yourself, take a look at Stardust. I found it a genuine treat.

%T   Stardust: Being a Romance Within the Realms of Faerie
%A   Gaiman, Neil 
%A   Vess, Charles
%C   New York
%D   1998
%G   1-56389-431-9
%I   Vertigo
%O   Hardcover, US$29.95
%P   224pp

Copyright December 23, 1998 by Kate Nepveu. Originally posted to rec.arts.sf.written.

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