My latest Neil Gaiman binge started with Good Omens and has now lead me to a re-read of Stardust. Stardust is one of my favourite fantasy books. It captures everything I love about fantasy – the magic, adventure and otherworldly beings – without the things that I sometimes don’t enjoy about fantasy – too much description, lore that is hard to follow and more characters than I can count or remember. Gaiman balances everything perfectly to create a story that feels simple but shows itself to be exquisitely crafted.
‘Gaiman balances everything perfectly to create a story that feels simple but shows itself to be exquisitely crafted.’
One of my favourite things about Stardust (and really Gaiman’s writing as a whole) is the worldbuilding. Gaiman has an amazing talent for building a detailed world and making it seem absolutely effortless. He layers seemingly simple details which build together to create a complex world. His worldbuilding is subtle and thoughtfully crafted. He doesn’t description dump or have the dialogue do all the heavy lifting. Instead, he weaves the details through the plot and characters, treating details about the world almost as secondary to these elements. This means that for the reader, the worldbuilding unfolds for them as the story moves along, deepening the complexity of both plot and the world. I love this method as it makes the world feel rich and strengthens my connection with the characters, especially in books like Stardust, where the characters are also unfamiliar with the world.
Another thing I love about Stardust is the characters. I’ll admit, I watched the film before I found the book, so for the most part I still imagine Claire Danes, Charlie Cox and Michelle Pfeiffer. But with each re-read my imagination skews them a little as my mind adds and changes more details. What I love most about the characters, but mostly Tristran and Yvaine, is how determined they are. Both are strong-willed, focused and willing to take on the challenges they face. While Yvaine may physically rely on Tristran for a large portion of the book, I think she is no less a strong and fierce character. I am a fan of plotty books so enjoy reading about characters that have clear goals and stakes, which covers pretty much all the characters in Stardust. There is no character that I was unsure about or felt like they hadn’t earned their place in the story.
‘Both are strong-willed, focused and willing to take on the challenges they face.’
Another fun part of the book is the subplot. While the main plot is great, having the Stormhold subplot allows Gaiman to develop other aspects of the world and lore. It’s a shorter book so the Stormhold subplot is necessary to fill the book out and to give breaks between the main plot. The ghosts offer some comedic respite (not that that the book is too much to handle) and help to contextualise some of the events in the book. They are the only characters that perform a somewhat expositional role in the book but I didn’t mind it. Also, the way they are described is just too good to have not included them.
I know this is a shorter review than usual but there isn’t anything I dislike about Stardust or any things I wish were done differently. If you haven’t read it, it is well worth adding to your list.
Author: Neil Gaiman
Publisher: Headline Publishing
Extent: 224 pages
Read If You Like: His Dark Materials trilogy by Philip Pullman, The Hobbit by J.R.R Tolkien, any fairytale stories