Tangled Web UK Review December 1999
File Updated: 30/03/00
Stardust by Neil Gaiman

The subtitle on Stardust reads: "Being a Romance Within the Realms of Faerie"; fair enough, as this is very much a fairy tale and suffers for it. Stardust is so concerned with the fairy tale archetypes of story and character that it fails to engage at any more sophisticated level. Younger readers and undemanding fantasy fans will likely eat this up, and though the book is often charming and never less than readable, the ultimate effect is too slight to satisfy adult sensibilities.
Stardust is a prose effort from Gaiman, still best known as the author of the Sandman comic book series - and a writer of prodigious talent - and features numerous, often sumptuous, illustrations by Charles Vess. The tale is set in the mid-nineteenth century in a cosy English village called Wall, which stands at the gateway to the fabulous realm of Faerie. A young man of (unknown to him) mixed human/faerie blood, ventures through the magical gate in search of a fallen star he has promised to bring home for his lady love. He consequently meets all manner of unusual personages, some of whom are very nasty indeed, discovers that the fallen star is nothing less than a beautiful young woman to whom he becomes bound, and has various adventures. Yadda-yadda-yadda.
While Gaiman is always witty enough to keep even cynical readers like your humble reviewer engaged, Stardust is every bit as precious as it sounds. Gaiman has a light touch to be sure, but the near-random plot and shallowness of characterization - though typical of fairy tales - make it hard to care too much about anything that goes on. Because anything *can* happen with little motivation, it's awfully hard to become involved in what *does* happen. It's all very predictable in any event, with nary a surprise and no sense of menace. Gaiman has used Faerie before in various comic book efforts, and to much better effect. There's a lazy quality to the writing here that suggests less than full engagement by the author. The fantastic realm is made mundane, with little genuine sense of wonder in its construction. Vess' illustrations liven things up a bit, but even these tend toward the overly literal. His straight comic book work with Gaiman is much better.
If I had a clever twelve year old child, I'd happily buy Stardust for her for Christmas, but this is far from Gaiman's best work. Readers would do better picking up just about any of the numerous Sandman volumes to see just what the author is really capable of.

( Jay Russell - one of the greatest talents the horror industry has produced for some time… (Black Tears))