Stardust (Neil Gaiman 1999)


This is my second Neil Gaiman review. I picked up Stardust on impulse, like most Neil Gaiman books in my collection. Stardust is a strange little book with a tongue in cheek sense of humour. It follows a young man Tristan as he ventures into the land of Faerie to retrieve a shooting star so he can impress the love of his life Victoria. However he discovers that the fallen star is actually a woman named Yvaine, and her fall has attracted the attention of three witches. The eldest of the three, referred to as the witch queen sets out to capture her. Like many other books Neil Gaiman has written, Stardust, is best described as a modern fairy tale. This book is probably the most blatant example due to the number of tropes and conventions it shares with the average fairy tale. This is both the book’s strength but at times is also its undoing.

Tristan, like so many fairy tale protagonists, is actually descended from a woman from Faerie. This in itself is no big spoiler as it is revealed through a point of view segment with his dad in the very beginning. However towards the end it is revealed that mum is actually related to the royal family of Faerie, specifically she is the missing Lady Una. Since by the end Tristan is the only surviving member of the royal family he is made king of Faerie. I personally don’t like endings where the protagonist becomes king, but the thing I didn’t like about it was how sudden it was set up. The other heir, Septimus is unceremoniously killed off in a manner which I felt was rather anti-climactic, and the means by which Lady Una is freed from her captivity is practically deus ex machina. The prophecy which freed her from Madam Semele seemed a bit of an ass pull to me, and I would have preferred it if instead there was more of a confrontation between Tristan and Madam Semele which lead directly to Una’s release. Her release felt like a bit of an anti-climax.

Speaking of anti-climaxes, there is a lot more to say on that front. In fact this is my primary issue with this book more than anything else. Many character arcs seem to end rather unceremoniously, like the previously mentioned Septimus. The entire climax of the book seems to have very little danger about it either. The book can’t seem to decide who the real antagonist is, whether it is the witch queen the unrelated witch who has captured Lady Una, Madam Semele. For the sake of this debate it doesn’t matter since both character arcs ended on a dull note. I have already explained my reasoning for Madam Semele. However the witch queen seemed to get this worse since she was the book’s primary antagonist. Towards the end she sort of disappears of the map and doesn’t really do anything, before appearing at the end, with her youth starting to run out. She leaves without even a fight, which seemed a bit odd to me.

Since the novel’s antagonistic forces seem to steer away from the heroes towards the climax, I felt that the climax of the book lost its edge. To be honest I was rather disappointed that there wasn’t any confrontation with the witch queen. I also had a few issues about Madam Semele since I felt it a bit strange that Gaiman would introduce a fourth witch into the story. Surely it would have been better if he somehow connected Lady Una to the three witch sisters instead? Madam Semele’s role in the story could easily have been filled by witch queen in my opinion.

Stardust is probably the weakest of the Neil Gaiman books I have read to date. I’m probably going to get a lot of flack for saying this but I actually enjoyed the film adaptation more. Sure it took a lot of liberties with the book, but considering how disappointed I was with it towards the end, I was very grateful that the film took such liberties from the source material. Yet, this is no place for me to gush about the film. That is a debate for another time. The point is, this book was very flawed. Its use of the deus ex machina towards the end, is just like out of a fairy tale, but to me it is a sign that Neil Gaiman went too far drawing from the source material. There is a reason fairy tales have gone out of fashion. Stardust is a reminder of why.

SCORE: 3/5




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