Stardust Review

Tristan Thorn is in over his head. He’s a made a promise to Victoria Forester, the supposed love of his life: He will venture forth into the world and bring her back a fallen star. Such a promise is normally nothing more than romantic and poetic gesture (Victoria obviously never took him seriously), but this boy meant it literally. You could blame it on Stardust’s fairy tale setting, the sheltered life in the village, or sheer teenage stupidity. Regardless, Tristan packs up his things and journeys into the strange and magical world of Faerie, fully expecting to fulfill his ridiculous vow. Needless to say, things don’t go exactly as planned.

SPOILERS

The story starts off strong with the introduction of Wall. It’s got the usual assortment of townsfolk going about their daily lives. Working on the farm, getting drinks at the tavern, a little romance, the whole bit. What keeps it from being a quaint (if cliched) village in 19th Century England, however, it also serves as a gateway into the realm of Faerie. The image of a tiny opening in an ancient wall – and the temptation of the idyllic meadow beyond it –  makes the setting seem more mysterious and otherworldly. You’ve got to wonder if the citizens of Wall realize they’re living on the border of a magical realm. It could be a case of selective obliviousness; Mr. Bromios is practically taken for granted as the innkeeper and bartender, despite his striking appearance and lack of aging. Then again, Dunstan – the primary character in the first couple of chapters – is shown to be rather gullible. It’s interesting to see how magic works from the perspective of a normal person; he doesn’t even realize he’s been enchanted and seduced, while the readers can only watch from the sidelines and hope nothing bad happens to him. He’s a little wiser after the 17-year time skip, though Tristan seems to inherited his father’s old traits.

What struck me most about the book wasn’t the subject matter, but the brevity of it. I’ll admit that I’m not the most well-versed in fantasy; I’ve a couple of Gaiman’s other works, slogged through the Wheel of Time and gotten my fill of Tolkien, but nothing else. I was expecting some incredibly long-winded descriptions of everything, but Tristan’s adventure starts just over 50 pages in and ends 200 pages later. The pacing remains steady and brisk throughout the novel; locations seem to be more for the sake of moving the narrative along, and nothing else. While I can appreciate this approach – the characters deserve more focus anyway – it just comes off as a series of missed opportunities. Who wouldn’t want to see more surreal days in Wall, or dive into the political intrigue of Stormhold’s succession crisis? There are little glimpses of Faerie’s amazing world – the ghostly brothers acting like a pseudo-Greek chorus is pretty hilarious – but there could’ve been so much more.

The secondary plot of Primus and Septimus trying to outwit and kill each other for the throne is interesting enough to merit its own series, but it ends abruptly to keep the narrative focused on Tristan and Yvaine. They’re fine as a couple, though anyone could’ve predicted they’d end up together. Their character development ties into the novel’s themes of duty, desire, and sacrifice; Tristan initially sees Yvaine as merely an object needed to fulfill his promise, but gradually becomes less self-centered and realizes his mistakes. His brief, tear-jerking return to Victoria demonstrates how much he’s matured. Yvaine only stays with Tristan because he saved her life, but eventually grows to love him; she becomes Stormhold’s immortal ruler and Tristan’s widow, never returning to the sky. It’s bittersweet, but fitting. Septimus wanted Primus dead, yet he is obligated to avenge his murder; he attempts to uphold his family’s honor via underhanded means, and suffers a karmic death for it. Even The Witch-Queen and Semele are bound by the rules governing their magic, no matter how much of it they throw around. Lady Una’s triumphant use of these rules at the end is one of the novel’s highest points.

But it’s not enough, though. Unless you’re going into this looking for a brief adult fairy tale (it was originally conceived as a story book), Stardust will leave you wanting more. More depth, descriptions, everything. In the “about the book” section, Gaiman even calls it, “the sequel to a book I haven’t written.” It boils the plot down to the essentials: a handful of characters, their motivations and growth, and the consequences of their actions. Its complex theming and magical setting keep it just interesting enough to finish. Stardust’s most creative ideas, much like the eponymous stars, shine brilliantly for a moment before fading back into the text. Maybe that was the idea all along.

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Lots Of Books, Not Enough Shelf

Hey, folks. Today’s Daily Prompt is all about reading. Specifically, what books you’d reread if you have enough free time. Looking at my shelf…Well, it’s probably better to make a list. Consider these:

As you might guess, I have a thing for postmodernism and strange, but incredible narratives. I’ll gladly take another spin with Judge Holden, Charles Kinbote, and Randall Flagg any day of the week. I’ll always enjoy the blending of reality and magic, be it a house that is bigger on the inside than its outside, ancient deities trying to make in the modern world, or a library that stretches into infinity. The comedy and tragedy of characters like Yossarian and the staff of the 1985 Peoria IRS are both hilarious and tear-jerking every time.

Oh, nostalgia. Maybe I’ll go another round with these soon…

Overnight In LAX

Hey, folks. Yesterday’s Daily Prompt was all about passing time. Specifically, passing time when you’re stuck in an airport for more than six hours, and you’ve got no electronics to fall back on. This exact scenario actually happened to me on the way back from Aruba in 2013. Due to how the connecting flights played out, I was stuck at LAX from midnight to about 8:30 AM. And I’ve posted pictures to prove it. As you can probably imagine, being alone in an airport all night isn’t fun. Actually, it’s kinda creepy. All the stores were locked up, and I was the only human being in that area for quite a while. I’m the type that loves solitude, but I was getting some serious Langoliers vibes after a couple of hours.

I’ve never been the type to depend so much on electronics for boredom. My iPod gets some time, but I tend to leave it off to spare the battery, or if I’m exploring someplace new. Though I work primarily from a laptop, I never take it with me while I travel. I didn’t even get a smart phone until about a month ago, and I’ve made maybe ten calls on it since. When I was in LAX, I still had a flip phone from 2003. I also had my 3DS, but I was saving its remaining power for the rest of the flight home. Instead, I did something far more engrossing: I read. I read for hours. I’m used to doing so on cramped, loud subways and buses, so reading in a silent airport gate was a godsend. A janitor crew came by at some point, but ignored me. I burned through American Gods and most of Norwegian Wood, then eventually fell asleep. You’d be surprised how comfortable those chairs can be. I woke up to the sound of someone opening the security gate at the Starbucks down the hall. Half an hour later, and my once-peaceful world was overrun with weary tourists and screaming kids.

It was good while it lasted.