I’m don’t really read a lot of romance books. Not because I think they’re bad. It’s just not something that I’ve ever been bothered by. When I was younger, I used to say that I was too cynical for rom-coms and the like. Now, I think I’d probably say that there are just a few tropes that I don’t really get along with. Being on Instagram and TikTok, I regularly see people praising enemy-to-lovers narratives and I just don’t get it. It just all seems too ridiculous to me. Why do we need to make love this insanely difficult and life-changing thing? Surely, it’s actually quite a simple thing in reality? I know romance novels are an escape for many but they’re often a step too far for me. Although, I will occasionally make an exception.
Neil Gaiman is a talented writer who can create amazingly detailed worlds. He manages to write stories that completely draw you in and won’t ever let you go. He also isn’t afraid to let things get a bit dark and gruesome. So, I guess that makes him the perfect person to write a fairy tale. Stardust has hints of the brothers Grimm but with Gaiman’s telltale approach. He creates a fantastic fantasy world and clearly had a great time writing this book.
I guess it can perhaps most closely be compared with The Princess Bride. Although, Gaiman places more emphasis on the fantasy elements than the romance. It tells the story of Tristran Thron, a resident of the town of Wall. Though life in the town is far from exciting, it sits on the border to the mysterious land of Faerie. On a mission to win the heart of the lady he loves, Tristran sets out beyond the wall to retrieve a fallen star. Unfortunately, the star is actually a young woman called Yvaine. It also transpired that Tristran was not the only person looking for the prize. Can Tristran convince Yvaine to come with him before the others find her?
I am a big Neil Gaiman fan and, when I first read this, I really expected to love it. However, I wasn’t completely bowled over. Reading it again, I think I have an issue with the way the story plays out. It’s not a bad book nor is it a waste of time. Gaiman is a fantastic writer and his use of language is very engaging. It definitely helped to listen to him narrate the audiobook as well. It brings the story to life. The book has all of the charm and whimsy that his books are known for. There is also a heavy dose of terror and villainy.
What I did find lacking was characterisation. At least compared to other Gaiman novels. None of the main characters really felt very well-developed. Maybe this was meant to be some sort of reference to traditional fairy tales but I just felt that both Tristran and Yvaine were a bit flat. Neither of them jumped off the page and I didn’t really care much about them. I found myself wanting to explore more of Faerie and learn more about its traditions.
Again, there isn’t the usual level of world-building here because there’s so much happening. We keep switching between so many characters. We don’t seem to spend much time in any place. Yet, despite this, there are moments when the story does drag quite a bit. The pacing is really quite odd for such a short book. It might have been good had there been one less element or maybe the plot had just slowed down slightly. Stardust isn’t a terrible book and I do really like it. I just think it could be a little more polished and sophisticated. Or maybe my love for the writer means that I just expect more? This is certainly not Gaiman’s best book by far but it’s still an entertaining read.