I first read this book a few years back when I was first discovering Neil Gaiman, and I will admit I was seriously underwhelmed by the book.
However, that is very much because I am a massive fan of the film, and some of the things I love about the film are very much Hollywood additions to make the story a thriller/fantasy film. And it works for the film, but I seriously didn’t appreciate that when I read the book the first time. I wanted it to essentially be a novelization of the film, rather than being the book the film was based on.
What can I say? I was an idiot.
I’m a lot more familiar with Gaiman’s work now, and after having read The Ocean at the End of the Lane as well, rather than just American Gods or Neverwhere, which are very different in tone, I can honestly say that Stardust is a truly spectacular book.
It is a proper quest plot line, where a love-stricken boy goes off in search of a fallen star in order to win the heart of his ‘one true love’. The journey he goes on makes him into a man; and the almost side-plot of a blood thirsty prince having to go and get revenge for his brother’s murder is inserted perfectly to expand the world-building.
Septimus in the book isn’t quite like Mark Strong’s performance in the film, but you get more of a subtle hint at the intelligence and sophistication of the character, who survives more by lurking in the shadows, than by being a swashbuckling prince who jumps out of windows and gallops around on horseback.
The book is both like and not like the film, but if you view the two media separately both are brilliant for their own reasons. In truth the only thing thing I miss in the book that is in the film is the sarcasm of the ghosts, who have a more subtle role than the comedic value they add to the film. Because the book isn’t really a comedy, it is more romantic and fanciful than that.
The book has beautiful prose, which delicately weaves the character development and world building together; it has lovely hints of old fashioned fantasy novels that drift slowly through the journey, but then also moments so gripping you can’t put the book down. And the imagination that has gone into this book is fascinating; the imagery that is invoked is stunning.
While it has hints of being connected to the magic found in The Ocean at the End of the Lane, this book is a must-read for fantasy lovers. This is because fantasy does not lend itself easily to producing stand-alone novels, but this is a superb example of how less really can be more.