A few years back, I was fascinated by morbid fairy tales and read one daily like a mantra. It was interesting to know that little mermaid committed suicide and Cinderella’s step sisters had their toes cut just to fit their foot into the shoe. It was a far cry from Disney’s interpretation of colors and marriages and singing animals. Stardust is my first Neil Gaiman and it had been both a pleasant and unpleasant surprise, similar to the feeling when I discovered that fairytales are not what it appeared to be in my childhood.
Hopelessly crossed in love, a boy of half-fairy parentage leaves his mundane Victorian-English village on a quest for a fallen star in the magical realm. The star proves to be an attractive woman with a hot temper, who plunges with our hero into adventures featuring witches, the lion and the unicorn, plotting elf-lords, ships that sail the sky, magical transformations, curses whose effects rebound, binding conditions with hidden loopholes and all the rest.
Details, details, details! The book is crowded with subtle details that tickle the senses and somehow get stuck at the back of your mind. Think of the dripping faucet or the bug crawling on the floor that you shouldn’t be noticing but you do. The book has lots of those moments: an owl picking up a mouse, men urinating everywhere, and the bird with the chain… It has both life’s beauty and unpleasantness. And the wonderful part is how each little detail is connected to other tiny details and it’s amazing to realize their contributions to the story.
Despite the atmosphere, it felt empty. The characters are odd and interesting but flat. It’s disappointing because the setting, atmosphere, and characters were all in all perfect, but the relationships staggered and did not made much sense. The protagonist, Tristran, did not felt like a character. He was air that moved about in the story contributing only little but less wisdom. The romance between Tristran and Yvaine was forced. The sex and violence, meanwhile, were unexpected and disturbing because of the innocent appearance of the story. I think it was unnecessary though.
Overall, the story was bland and forgettable. It has similarities to The Grimm Fairytales (or any other fairytales) which are quick, plot-centered, anti-climactic and dark but it is not really a reason to praise the book. I didn’t learn anything from it at all, so it is a mostly disappointing read. Yet, there’s still that sense of awe when reading it and I especially look forward for Neil Gaiman because of that.