Tuesday, March 10, 2015

"Stardust" by Neil Gaiman

[I read Stardust after watching its movie version, so there will be references and comparisons throughout this review].

A funny thing has happened since I began book blogging: I develop a distinct opinion of the book I'm reading around the 60% mark, as well as guess my star rating and exactly what I need to say about it. Ninety percent of the time, this works brilliantly, because endings are so often predictable and only wrap up a book, they don't necessarily add to it. This book is one of those ten percent I get wrong, even when I had watched the movie prior and had that experience to guide me. Stardust the book and Stardust the movie are very similar, but have slightly different endings.

I was in the mood for something fairy-tale-esque when I picked this book up, cravings that were partially satiated by reading this. One thing I kind of expected was that this book would be a lot of fun, which it was, but it also had darker elements sometimes seen in fairy tales as well. There were quite a few characters that had been scrapped (or given small parts, or combined with other characters) when the book was converted to be a movie, but one I kinda sorta missed seeing was more of the one known as "Captain Shakespeare". In the book, there is a similar character to him (who is as bland as milk toast, a more traditional pipe-smoking sailor), but nothing truly LIKE him. Those who have seen the movie will know what I'm barking up a tree at, and it was disappointing to me there was no immensely flamboyant dual-life father figure in the book to inspire the one portrayed in the film.

The Plot: (As Seen on Goodreads)
'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.'

The boy known as Tristran (Tristan in the movie) basically comes of age through this adventure story, but somehow he didn't quite grow on me. I have read another of Mr. Gaiman's more urban books (American Gods) and had a similar experience with the main character of that novel. Even though I felt his male characters lacked a certain something (with the exception of the conniving Septimus), I really enjoyed his portrayal of Yvaine and another heroine. Yvaine is more headstrong than she was in the movie, more outspoken, and more willing to make her own way. She doesn't exactly need Tristran, but his many skills occasionally come in handy, especially when he's in the right place at the right time.

Some of Mr. Gaiman's writing I think I would better enjoy as an audiobook. As a somewhat heavy-handed internal editor, I notice patterns in writing that I would not notice when listening to something. 'And' seems to be a frequent favorite word of his, omitting comma-ed lists to say: rainbows and unicorns and all manner of sea critters (that's my own writing, by the way, just to provide an example). This I wouldn't fixate on if I'd been listening to some fantastic narrator (Mr. Gaiman himself, perhaps?) tell me an adventure tale with magical elements.

There were many beautiful quotes within this book, but most of them would spoil the ending, which I don't like to do. Consequently, I'll be using one from halfway through the book which spoils no plotlines.

"You are young, and in love," said Primus. "Every young man in the world in your position is the most miserable man who ever lived."

     ~Stardust by Neil Gaiman, page 152 ebook edition.

Would I have liked the book better if I hadn't watched the movie first? Probably. Watching the movie makes you know when the plot twists will happen (some of the time). At 60%, my guess was I'd rate this three stars, partially because of my experience with the movie. But by then the writing style had grown on me, despite the gratuitous 'and's, and I was fully immersed in the story, not suspecting the ending would be any different from its film version. The ending, as I mentioned before, truly changed my opinion of this book for me, because of its unconventional-ness and its lack of fanfare.

Stardust is an adventurous fairy tale of a book that ends on a high note. Although it is very similar to its subsequent movie, it surprised me how well I could enjoy it even though I had visions (and expectations) of Captain Shakespeare dancing through my head. I won't soon forget my adventures journeying with Tristran Thorn and Yvaine the star, and recommend this book to anyone who likes a good fairy tale with a heavy dose of adventure.

Rating: 4 of 5 Stars for a newly minted fairy tale with the right amount of Grimm.

Content: Ages 16+ for a glossed over sex scene, occasional swearing, and witches with long knives who know how to use them (violence and a little gore).

Page Count: 248 pages

I'm planning on doing a book vs. film comparison for Stardust later this week, as it is one of the more interesting book to film adaptations: both the book and the movie are pretty excellent, in my opinion, but they're different in tone.

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