Stardust is billed as "being a romance within the realms of faerie," and it is probably one of the only truthful blurbs ever found on the cover of a book. Beginning life as a Vertigo (DC Comics) 4-part magazine, the move to a hardcover edition of Stardust was preserved flawlessly and has art and illustration by Charles Vess that is strong enough to, almost, be considered a graphic novel.
Gaiman takes us once again to another part of the world we live in, using a Mists of Avalon feel with a bit of a shinier, jester styled theme. You can also see similarities to his previous NeverWhere and, from saying that, one can easily trace yet again to Alice in Wonderland from there. The idea of there being places in this world where you can walk through a certain break in a stone wall and step through the boundary of our world into one of fantasy and faeries is a major part of Stardust.
The story opens on a faerie land fair day and from there it spins out in multiple threads to, once again, rejoin at this same fair day only eighteen years later. You will travel with hairy little trolls, hang out with royalty and find stars that fell from the sky to break their leg. As Tristan heads off at 17 years old on a quest for the idealistic value of love, you're witness to bright characters, dark souls and strange sights. The tale is told with a Brothers' Grimm flair that hearkens back to older style English, but there are points of anachronism and wordplay within the book that is used to remind the reader that this is indeed a modern story. The anachronisms are used to add a humorous effect and is capable of breaking a smile in even the staunchest, jade-hearted cynical goth fuckers currently living (translation: me), which of course is no mean feat.
The multiple threads all come together on the fair day that ends the novel, tying together in a nice little bundle and linking all the main characters in one fine chain that runs from beginning to end. While the tale moves on you'll find yourself returning to characters that, in the outset, seem to have no relationship to each other beyond the fact that they are looking for the same thing. Their paths cross, twist and turn one round the other and then finally comes to a head superbly and smoothly, like a main road that splits off into trails to go around obstacles and only meet again on the other side to reform the main road yet again.
Meanwhile Vess' artwork for this novel are wonderful, from primitive pencil sketches to full page, full color paintings and even action panes on some pages. In some areas turning the page will lead to a beautifully depicted full color two-page print, beautifully illustrating the story as it moves along with an elfin flair. Stardust is as much Charles Vess' work as it is Neil Gaiman's.
Gaiman teams up with one of DC's best, Vess, within Stardust and takes the reader on yet another romp through a different kind of place. The Through The Looking Glass feel remains strong between this and other novels including his own NeverWhere, it is nonetheless its own complete story sharing just enough similarities with the others to catch us off guard, thinking we know where we are when in fact we know as little as ever.
"Stardust" by Neil
Gaiman and Charles Vess
Published by DC Comics
Copyright © 1997, 1998 by Neil Gaiman and Charles Vess