Gaiman, Neil & Charles Vess. Stardust: Being a Romance Within the Realms of Faerie.

NY: DC Comics, 1997.

Neil is the modern master of the fairy tale, and he writes all kinds, from comic to wistful to thoroughly noir. This one is of the traditional variety, though often with tongue firmly in cheek. Gaiman won a number of awards for this one, and deserved them. Vess won another bunch of awards for the art which greatly enhances nearly every page. He reminds me a little of Arthur Rackham and a lot of Alicia Austin, and that’s praise.

So, it’s the early 1840s and life is generally quiet in the village of Wall, a long night’s train ride from London. The ancient high stone wall after which the place is named separates our world from Faerie and no humans are allowed in — except for one summer week every nine years, when a market is held in the meadows beyond the wall. Dunstan Thorne, eighteen-year-old son of a local sheep-farmer, joins the rest of the villagers at the fair and is seduced by a girl from beyond the wall — and nine months later, he and his new wife receive his newborn son in a basket on the front stoop.

So Tristram, a halfling, grows up a bit different from his mates. And when he’s seventeen himself and falls in love with (and is rejected by) the most beautiful girl in the village, he sees a falling star and makes a rash promise — that he will go and fetch it for her. Go ahead, then, she says. And make sure it’s specifically that falling star and not any other. Bring it back to me and then maybe we’ll see.

So off the lovestruck Tristram goes, into his mother’s country, where, naturally, he becomes involved in numerous adventures. Because he’s not the only one searching for that star. There are the three ancient witches for whom it can provide a new supply of life. And there are the three surviving brothers who are competing to be Lord of Stormhold after their father’s death, and for whom the star holds the key. But Tristram has inherited certain talents and abilities from his mother’s side, and he’s not the sort to give up.

It’s a good story, with all the themes and events one would expect of a fairy tale, but Neil tells them in his own fashion, which will take the reader over the hills and far away, as they say.

Considering who published this edition of the book — and it’s the only version you should consider buying, really — it’s not surprising it has been marketed as a graphic novel, but that’s not correct. What it is, is an illustrated or illuminated book. You’ll find no voice-balloons here, only pictures, still shots of the action, that help tell the story. A lovely piece of work.

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