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Niel Gaiman

Spike Avon Books

US Hardcover First

ISBN 0-380-97728-1

238 pages; $22.00

Reviewed by Rick Kleffel (c) 1999


Neil Gaiman

Illustrated by Charles Vess

Titan Books

Canadian Oversize Softcover

ISBN 1-84023-052-5

224 pages; #14.99

Reviewed by Rick Kleffel (c) 1999



Fantasy, Horror

10-08-02, 12-13-02, 03-26-03, 09-13-03, 12-31-04

There's a reason that everyone is stumbling over themselves to praise Niel Gaiman, to give him awards and make movies out of his novels and the graphic novels he's written. He's a great writer with a wonderful ability to combine humor, dark observations and quirky, realistic, entertaining characters into fantasies that jump right off the printed page and into the reader's brain. 'Stardust' is his latest novel and in it he does something that is again and again an indicator of a huge talent. He makes writing great fiction look easy.

'Stardust' is a fairy tale for adults, following in the footsteps of Lord Dunsany, Mervyn Peake and a host of others he thanks in the Acknowledgements that follow the story. At 238 pages, with widely spaced type, 'Stardust' is barely within novel length, but in terms of plot and character development it fulfills all the obligations and then some. The novel tells the simple story of a boy who journeys into the land beyond the Wall in the village of Wall. There he encounters a number of magical creatures and situations, which Gaiman manages to weave into a tapestry that unravels like spun silk. It's so easy to read it seems almost sinful.

If you're lucky, you may be able to scare up an version of novel illustrated by Charles Vess. Vess' illustrations (175 of them) fill and illuminate the pages, changing the very nature of the story. They'r beautiful, light, airy, and willopen up the novel in ways you won't be able to foresee if you read the prose-only version. My advice would be to read the prose-only version first, then open up the illustraqted version for a speecial treat. 'Stardust' is definitely a book that you'll want to re-read.

Don't think for one minute that this book is any less than adult or erudite because it's a fairy tale. Gaiman is deceptively simple in his exposition, but the characters and plots he creates are complex. Like the best horror writers, he can create a scene not only of horror, but one of wonder, then support it with a nicely turned phrase that helplessly evokes the reader's admiration of the writer's skill. But the writer, the reader, everything else disappears when you're in 'Stardust'. It gives a whole new layer of meaning to the term 'magic realism'.