Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Review: Stardust

Well, the movie was recently released and I am very interested in it. I knew that it was a book, and written by the wonderful Neil Gaiman, but until recently I had not read it. Lo and behold, I had to take a trip, and in the process of getting out of the house I left the library book I had intended to read on the trip at home. Well on a layover in Memphis I shopped around in one of those little stores, and almost picked up a $10 Stephen King novel that I had not read. As I was heading to the checkout, I saw this rolling rack filled with novels, and found it set amongst them. At $7 it made a much more reasonable purchase, though I did finish it before I got home, so it might have been smarter to have gotten the Stephen King novel from that point of view.


As I stated, this review is for Neil Gaimon's novel Stardust. My copy is the mass-market paperback (ISBN: 978-0-380-80455-9) and clocks in at 336 pages. Normally, 336 pages would have lasted me the six hours of travel that I still had to do from the time I purchased the book until I returned home. What tricked me here though, was the fact those 336 pages were in a font size about 1.5 times the size of the font used in most adult novels. Basically, Inferno runs a font size of about 10 points, where Stardust runs about 15 points. That's enough to easily shave off a good 90-100 pages, ultimately, this novel is not much longer than Bridge to Terabithia and I would hazard it runs somewhere in the vicinity of 60-75 thousand words. Anyways, the back-cover blurb is as follows:

From #1 New York Times bestselling author NEIL GAIMON comes a remarkable quest into unexplored and magical lands--in pursuit of love and the utterly impossible.

Young Tristran Thorn will do anything to win the cold heart of beautiful Victoria--even fetch her the star they watch fall from the night sky. But to do so, he must enter the unexplored lands on the other side of the ancient wall that gives their tiny village its name. But beyond that old stone barrier, Tristran learns, lies Faerie--where strange things can happen to a determined lad chasing his heart's desire... and where nothing, not even a fallen star, is what he imagined.
It's a decent back cover blurb, giving enough information to intrigue while not destroying any of the plot events of the story. Overall, it's a beautiful blurb, despite the author ego-petting at the start of it. Maybe it's just me, but I don't care if a writer is a #1 New York Times bestselling author or not. Most of the time that has no bearing on the quality of the current work. Need proof? Look at the number of #1 New York Times bestselling authors that have only been up there once.

Anyways, blurbs and statistics of the book aside, let's look at the plot. It is set up as a traditional "get the macguffin" plot. Oddly, a good way through the book it switches over to a "win the girl" plot. While there are protagonists and antagonists in the traditional sense, we're not really given any long, dragged out fight scenes, like are at the climaxes of any of the Lord of the Ring novels. In fact, for a fantasy story, there's not a lot of fighting at all. Did it make it a bad or boring book? No! And in fact it was something of a welcome change of pace.

Though there are a myriad number of characters, the most important are Tristran Thorn and Yvaine. Tristran is the main protagonist, and most of the story is seen from his point of view. What little is not, is from his father's point of view, prior to his birth. No matter how much I think about it, I can't remember anything that could be construed as character development in the traditional sense. Neither character grew better or more accepting of differences overall in the course of the story. There are emotional changes between the two main characters, but beyond that I've got nothing.

A handful of secondary and tertiary characters flit in and out of the story, performing the tasks necessary for the ending Gaiman wants to come about, but again, not really growing, changing or learning anything.

Where the book excels though is the theme. It's not traditional good versus evil which one usually finds in fantasy novels, but rather focuses instead on defining what you want. Tristran starts out the story, determined to do something for Victoria, despite the fact that she is ultimately uninterested in him. So, he runs off to get the macguffin in order to win the girl, and along the way realizes things about love and what the heart wants.

Settings and descriptions are beautiful, though I could have used a bit more of them. Mr. Gaiman describes things succinctly, filling the world of Faerie with all manner of interesting magical tidbits and beings, from magical crystal flowers to boats that float in the sky hunting lightning bolts.

Ultimately, this is a great and well executed story. I liked it, a lot as it happens. What's odd is that there's not really a single thing I can point to and say that's why I like it. There's little physical conflict, and the characters spend most of the story just wandering around the country side. But it's those characters and how they react to each other which builds the story. Despite the fact that there is little character development, the character interactions, especially between Tristran and Yvaine, are beautiful to behold.

In the end I have to give this a 3.4 out of 4.

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