BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Tristan Thorn adventures into the land of Faerie to recover a fallen star for his sweetheart. However, he gets far more than he bargains for when he finds he isn’t the only one who wants to find the star.
PROS: Gaiman can write and his use of language is excellent
CONS: Plot is wildly disjoint, and strangely most characters are uninteresting and unimportant.
BOTTOM LINE: I’d give this story a pass.
I’m overall a big fan of Neil Gaiman. I liked Neverwhere, Good Omens, and American Gods. I loved Sandman and Marvel 1602. He has to be one of the best writers of dialog of his generation. And all that ability is on display here. But sadly, I felt the plot and characters didn’t work. But then, there is something odd about this work. Is it a comic? Or a novel? The one I read and have in my hand is certainly a novel, but then I see it was first published as a graphic novel with illustrations by Charles Vess (an illustrator on Sandman and Spider-Man.) Perhaps that’s a better way to enjoy the story? The images might make the characters come to life in a way they don’t in the novel. I saw another reviewer state he felt he was reading an outline for a book that was flushed out with descriptive paragraphs, and I agree. Perhaps that comes from converting a graphic novel into a novel? Gaiman does describe the characters and environment well, but because of the two-dimensional nature it feels wasted.
I reread my review of Neverwhere and see that I had some issues with the characters there, so perhaps they aren’t his strong suit? Strange, because Sandman has some fantastic characters. In this book, there are several that were meant to be special and interesting, but just didn’t work. The main antagonist, the witch-queen, ends up fizzling out rather than being a true threat. Her motivation simple (kill star, use life energy) and she is certainly mean. But despite one incident she is a threat that never materializes, and at the end just disappears. There is another character who I thought was supposed to be a major influence. A cloudship captain shows up while fishing for lightning bolts, helps them, and disappears without much impact. There are some murderous brothers vying for their father’s throne who kill each other, but despite the fun of them sniping at the living as ghosts you don’t really care about them. The main characters are too simple and too naive, seeming to go forward without thinking.
And the plot is weak, just wandering and meandering without seeming to care where it goes or what happens. There are some exciting parts where the characters encounter a threat, but there’s plenty of time where nothing happens but just walking along. There are side encounters that mean nothing, and the entire first chapter of the book (where I’m willing to accept some setup and exposition) goes on far too long and tells a whole story that ultimately doesn’t matter all that much. And finally, the book ends without a climax, with all the drama evaporating.
Even though I finished the book just 2 days ago, I found I couldn’t remember much of it. So that’s my take on it – it is an unremarkable effort overall. If you’re interested, I’d skip the novelization and read the graphic novel instead – at least then you’d get to see Vess’ art.