“Adventures are all very well in their place, but there's a lot to be said for regular meals and freedom from pain.”
I'm going to forgo my usual plot summary, as the blurb does a good job describing the contents of the book and I don't think my blathering for a couple of lines could be more insightful as to what HAPPENS in this book.
My first experience with "Stardust" and, incidentally, Neil Gaiman, was when a dear friend of mine lent me the movie "Stardust". You know, the one that did "Meh" at the theaters and seemed to fade into the background (or at least, that was MY perception of it). Anyway, I was like, "Oh, boy, here's a movie I'm probably going to hate." (Optimistic me, eh?) I put off watching the movie for a loooong time, until finally, I was tired of being a horrible friend and watched it so I could return it.
I was HUGELY surprised at how GOOD the movie was. It was charming, funny, intelligent, clever and FUN. The characters were great, acting superb, and scenes well done. I adored Tristan (note the name was changed in the film from TristRan to Tristan minus "R", which I think was a good idea based on how difficult it would have been to say Tristran the entire movie), Yvaine, and Captain Shakespeare. I enjoyed myself immensely and kicked myself heartily for not watching it sooner. I made a note to one day pick up some Gaiman books and check them out.
Years passed. A friend of mine invited me to attend a Neil Gaiman book signing with her. I said, "Sure, why not!" It didn't matter in my mind that I hadn't ever read a book by him or that the only acquaintance I had with his work was a movie that didn't do all that great in the theater. That was just the impetus I needed to finally read a Neil Gaiman book, the book on which the movie "Stardust" is based.
"Stardust" the book is just as much fun as "Stardust" the movie, albeit in a different way (particularly the ending and the sad omission of Captain Shakespeare and his crew). It's smart and funny; it pokes fun at fantasy and fairy tale cliches all the while reveling in them. It's got great characters, great lines, beautiful writing, and gorgeous world-building.
The characters you come to expect in this novel are present here, but Gaiman refuses to just create an archetype and plug them into their stereotypical role. Tristran may be the "hero", but he really doesn't need to save the world from anything. Yvaine may be the "damsel in distress", but if she needs "rescuing from someone", it would be the hero! Victoria, the "Love Interest", has quite the astonishing storyline - she starts out the novel rather cold and heartless, but by the end, I really felt for her and was astonished at the clever twist Gaiman took her story. As for the other key characters - the scarlet witch, Primus, Septimus, and Semele - well, they were constantly throwing me for a loop.
But that is just par for the course in this book. This book isn't like the movie, where there is a big "showdown". There is no big fight with the scarlet witch. There are lots of deaths, but not the ones you expect. Bad guys don't get their Disney deaths; the good guys don't all end up in palaces ruling in peace and harmony, with their loved ones forever and ever. In fact, the Epilogue is quite bittersweet.
This isn't to say the novel is perfect. There were times that I felt really great stories were brushed over to get to the end of Tristran's voyage. Particularly episodes on Captain Alberic's ship were skimmed over; we hear how those were some of the best of Tristran's stay in Faerie but see painfully little. Something similar happens in the last third of their journey - adventures are mentioned in passing but never seen. Why say that it would take 6 months (or so) to get where the star is when you are going to spend so little of the book on these adventures? I don't need to see everything, but given the pace earlier in the book, it seems odd.
But when the biggest (only?) complaint you have is you want to see MORE in this world, are you really doing badly? I think not - I'd rather read a book that makes me want more, that I enjoyed wholeheartedly, than a book that showed me everything I wanted (and more) that bored me to tears.
Gaiman is truly a master storyteller and a beautiful wordsmith. "Stardust" may be the first of his works I've read, but it most certainly won't be the last.