Review: ‘Stardust’ by Neil Gaiman and Charles Vess

1221796-stardustAt some point in my reading habits, I drifted away from the fantasy realm. Other than rereading Harry Potter now and again, I rarely sought out new fantasy tales.

So when I saw Neil Gaiman’s “Stardust” on the shelf at the library, I grabbed it without a second thought. I haven’t read much of Gaiman’s work (only “Coraline” many years ago), and I have never read a graphic novel. I had heard of the story, mostly because of the movie (which I have only seen a trailer of).

The story begins in Wall, England, at the dawn of the Victorian Era. The town is named as such because of the wall east of town, where two townsfolk guard the opening into the meadow and the woods behind it. Every nine years, the mortal and magical worlds meet in the meadow for a market fair. It is in Wall that Tristran Thorn falls in love with the cold and distant Victoria. Late one October night, as he is walking her home, they see a star fall from the sky. Tristran promises to fetch the fallen star for his love and embarks upon a quest through the ancient wall into the magical world.

First, let me start with Charles Vess’ beautiful illustrations. I spent half of my time staring at his art instead of reading the words on the page. Some of the illustrations took up parts of the page. Others take up a two-page spread and jolt you into the scene you are reading about, such as when the lion is attacking the unicorn. I loved his depiction of the star, Yvaine, as well. Her white blonde hair was untamed in each portrait of her, with little bits of stardust trailing behind her.

Speaking of Yvaine, she was most definitely my favorite character in this story. Whatever your assumptions of what a star might act like as a human, you’re probably wrong. At least with Yvaine. Her first appearance in the narrative made me crack a smile:

And there was a voice, a high clear, female voice, which said, ‘Ow,’ and then, very quietly, it said ‘fuck,’ and then it said ‘Ow,’ once more. (68)

Throughout her character arc, she is strong-willed, defiant and independent. She challenges Tristran throughout their journey through Wall, even running away at one point. I mean, I would if some guy chained my wrist to his. But she comes to respect Tristran and, you probably guessed this was coming, falls in love with him.

Another story arc (there were many intertwined) I loved was the Lilim. One of the sisters sets out to find the fallen star (Yvaine) and take its heart so that she and her sisters can be young once more. As to be expected, the Lilim fail at this task and I was never outright worried that they would come close. In the middle of the story, the Lilim has an unsuspecting Yvaine in their grasp but before they can take out her heart, Tristran rescues Yvaine with the other villain in the story, Primus. Though Lilim gets one more shot at capturing Yvaine, she ultimately fails. The youth she gained at the beginning of the story fades by the end of the story and she is once again an old woman.

She interacts with Yvaine one more time, at the market near Wall. Yvaine does not hate the witch who wanted her heart: “Yvaine realised that she felt nothing but pity for the creature who wanted her dead” (208).

There is so much to love about “Stardust,” and I’ve barely touched on it in this review. Every time I shut the book to split up the play fighting between the cats or to get ready for bed, my world seemed a little more magical. I can’t wait to read more of Gaiman’s writing.

Until then, I’ll settle for watching “Stardust” on Netflix before I read my next book.

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