(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Prefaced by poet John Donne’s “Song,” whose opening line is “Go, and catch a falling star,” STARDUST sets its hero, Tristan Thorn, on a quest to do just that. Smitten by beauty Victoria Forester, Tristan seizes on her offhand promise that if he retrieves a star they see fall from the sky, he will have his heart’s desire. Hoping to win Victoria’s love, Tristan ventures off to seek the star in the realms of Faerie, bordering the village he has known as home on the English countryside. In Faerie, he finds his star and, ultimately, his heart’s desire, but not until, in true fairytale fashion, he encounters danger and sacrifice. For the star, in the form of a young woman, is also sought by wicked witches and treacherous lords on quests of their own—bloody ones.

Author Neil Gaiman skillfully conveys the pursuit of a quest as living on the knife edge of peril and promise. His writing is both lyrical and chilling, conjuring the unearthly beauty and terror of the world where Tristan discovers his destiny. That world is inhabited by a cast of characters who are shameless scene stealers in comparison with the decent if initially dull protagonist.

Significantly, Gaiman places his tale in Victorian times, a golden age for British fantasy. Readers of fantasy will recognize familiar themes and motifs, from the shifting nature of appearances to magical talismans and mythical beings. At the same time, Gaiman renews the genre with surprises both funny and touching.

Overcoming a slow beginning and occasionally clunky dialogue, Gaiman ends up pulling off a feat of storytelling, whose spell lingers like a dream upon awakening.