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DarkEcho Horror
deccoclock by Rick Berry
Book Review

STARDUST
Neil Gaiman
Spike (Avon)/$22/256 p.
ISBN 0-38097728-1

Neil Gaiman enchants and charms with STARDUST, a beautifully written story of attaining and discovering the heart's true desire. The enticing fairy tale for adults (and precocious children) has the magical ability to refresh even the most deflated sense of wonder

Queen Victoria and her reign are both still young when Stardust begins in the placid English village of Wall. There's nothing extraordinary about the town -- except that the barrier it is named for is all that divides it from the fantastical world of Faerie. Townsfolk assiduously guard the border-wall's single gate and allow little of Faerie to touch the mundane, but every nine years a market fair is held and human and Faerie can mix. A young man, Dunstan Thorn, mixes quite thoroughly with a seductive beauty at the fair and nine months later a basket appears at the wall's gate containing an infant who will grow up to be Stardust's hero, Tristran Thorn.

Tristran, never told of his unusual parentage, reaches age seventeen and fixates on a town maiden slightly beyond his reach. She inadvertently sets him on his quest when she challenges Tristran to find a star they have seen fall from the sky. She will, she promises, grant him his heart's desire if he brings the star back to her.

cover Tristran, with the all the confidence of naiveté and youth, enters the magic land and soon discovers he has a talent for knowing locations of places and things he has never heard of before, including the fallen star. Tristran locates the star, but there are, of course, evil adversaries who, unknown to him, also seek the formerly celestial body -- three truly weird sisters who are aspects of the witch-queen Lilim; and sons, both dead and alive, of the late Lord of Stormhold. A variety of adventures ensue including a terrifyingly close call in an inn, a trip on a lightning-hunting sky-ship, and Tristran's transformation by witchcraft into a dormouse. Along the way the hero learns, among many other things, "Adventures are all very good in their place, but there's a lot to be said for regular meals and freedom from pain." With the help of a candle, a leaf, and a unicorn, Tristran eventually gains his heart's desire -- and proves that nothing is ever as easily understood or neatly to be achieved as one imagines.

Gaiman is obviously inspired by a rich grounding in folklore and mythic tradition as well as writers like Hope Mirrlees, Lord Dunsany, James Branch Cabell, and C.S. Lewis who, he readily acknowledges showed him "that fairy stories were for adults, too." But Gaiman, already creator of popular icons and an icon himself in popular culture, has a distinctive feel for transforming traditional symbolism and imagery into new metaphors that entertain and communicate to a modern audience. Gaiman makes you believe in magic, in love, in the power of good over evil as he intelligently reveals the secrets of it all in a rich narrative style replete with gentle irony, a hint of darkness, provocative wit, and genuine warmth. We wind up believing all the more because he has something of a "wink-and-a-nudge, it's-all-just-a story...isn't it?" attitude as he tells his tale. Like all great storytellers, Gaiman reworks the jewels of the past into exciting new forms that sparkle even more brightly to the modern eye. Stardust is a shimmering, shining, iridescent treasure for readers to cherish. -- Paula Guran, originally published by Event Horizon

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Copyright © 2002 Paula Guran. All Rights Reserved.