Jen's Reviews > Stardust

Stardust by Neil Gaiman
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's review
Feb 06, 2008

did not like it
bookshelves: fantasy
Recommended for: Die-hard Neil Gaimon Fans
Read in November, 2007

** spoiler alert ** A friend gave me this book and I decided to read it before going to see the movie, since I'd heard so many rave reviews of the film. If the movie hadn't been my carrot, though, I never would have made it through the first chapter, let alone the entire story. Let me say that I adore the fantasy genre (check my book list), so this is not outside my interest. However, in attempting to write a "fairy tale for adults" Gaimon completely missed the mark. Apparently his idea of what makes a story "for adults" is generous sprinklings of gore, violence, and sex. Considering that the rest of the story is written with child-like simplicity these sections are jarring, to say the least. When I stumbled across the first somewhat graphic sex scene within a few dozen pages, I literally stopped to double check what book I was reading. Call me a prude, but I don't think words like "nipple" and "thrust" really flow well in a fairy tale. Also, I defy any fantasy lover to not flinch in horror at Gaimon's brutal and gore-spattered murder and subsequent dismemberment of the heroine's unicorn. "Pooling bodily fluids"? No, thank you.

Still, it's not so much the sex & violence that disturbed me (although if I liked that kind of thing I wouldn't be reading fantasy); it was that they were included in a tale lauded for its childlike adventure and whimsy. Even the description here on goodreads compares it to Princess Bride & the Neverending Story - an insult beyond comprehension to works which demonstrate that, with skill, an author can in fact write a fairy tale for adults without employing R rated tactics.

Lest you think I am allowing several instances of violence and sex to ruin my opinion of the entire work, let me address the actual plot line and writing. Gaimon can write, obviously, but the plot is riddled with fantasy travel cliches (oh, he slept in a hayloft? How original!) and tiresome caricatures. The hero is an unsympathetic clod, the star is referred to almost exclusively as "the star", rendering her more an inanimate object than a living being, and the rare nuggets of interest, such as the lightning pirates and the mysterious "kingdom brotherhood" are glossed over in a few paragraphs. And for a book that does not flinch from sex, where is the romance between the star & hero? We endure their pedantic bickering the entire book, only to be rewarded with a passionless declaration of love betwixt them by the end.

The ending is predictable yet less than satisfying, since the evil witch queen escapes justice and ultimately the star faces a lonely immortality bereft of her love. Not exactly the stuff happy endings are made of.

UPDATE: I finally saw the movie, and let me say how grateful I am that it is NOTHING like the book! Other than borrowing the majority of the plot & character names, the movie is night & day different, employing a vast amount of humor & charm where the book was violent and grim. I only wish my perspective had not been tainted by the book!
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Comments (showing 1-50 of 84) (84 new)

message 1: by Jaz (new) - added it

Jaz most fairy tales, in their unsanitized, non-disney versions, contain some pretty grisly subject matter, too.

message 2: by Julie (new)

Julie I absolutely agree with this reveiw. I LOVE fantasy, but I didn't finish this book because of the graphic images that the author chose to create. I didn't feel it was necessary to make it R rated... I try to keep my reading more PG or PG-13.

Grace I was about to write a review for this book and I can hardly see the point anymore, you said EXACTLY what my reaction and thoughts were.

Fortunately I saw the movie first (something I NEVER do, but I couldn't help it, I swear!) and I absolutely loved it. Then I read the book and was completely taken aback, not at all what I expected. Every cool idea in the book was totally glossed over and talk about uninteresting, boring and passionless romance!

message 4: by Andrew (new)

Andrew I'm a kid, so I started reading it and had to stop within the first two chapters. I agree with you, the scenes were horrible.

Tianna Well said. While I loved his style of writing, the sex scenes and violence put me off. I did not appreciate the explicitness he used to create those scenes. I also do not think this book should be in the Young Adult section of the library where I found it. This is unquestionably written for adults, not kids.

message 6: by [deleted user] (new)

I really liked this book and count myself as a huge Gaiman fan, but I'm with you 100% on the graphic nature of some of his scenes. My dream come true would be a truly young adult (and not so ADULT adult) novel from Neil Gaiman.

message 7: by Rose (new) - rated it 1 star

Rose I agree completely agree with you regarding this book. I am about halfway through the book and not sure if I want to finish it. I loved the movie, it was wonderful and charming. It's the reason I chose to read the book, but now I am regretting that decision. This is definitely a case where the movie is better than the book.

message 8: by Larissa (last edited Nov 03, 2011 07:52PM) (new)

Larissa I couldn't agree with you more, this book is horrid. The hero is a moron, and every other character in the story has loose morals. Which is the nicest way of saying it I can think of. The first chapter shocked me beyond belief, that, I can't believe I read beyond that point. I guess I was hoping, praying, it would get better, but it only got worse the farther into the story I got. From the crude explicit sex scenes to the grisly murders. I too wish I'd decided to just watch the movie instead of trying to read the book first, but thanks to your review I decided to chuck the book and watch the movie instead. Thank you. You described it better than I could have.

message 9: by Rose (new) - rated it 1 star

Rose I actually put the book down and didn't finish it. No regrets!

message 10: by Henrik (new)

Henrik I disagree with you, Jen, but I respect your opinion on the matter, and despite reading the story in a much more favourable light than you I nonetheless enjoyed reading your review. Had me see the story in a new light. Not that I've changed my mind, but it's always interesting to hear (ahem, read:-P) other's opinions.

Thanks for the review:-)

message 11: by Aliceinwonder (new)

Aliceinwonder Thank you soo much for this warning!! Good literature doesn't need sex!! I'm glad i read this review before i decide to read the book. I love loved the movie. it was so cute!!

message 12: by Alana (new) - rated it 1 star

Alana You said it much better than I did! I couldn't believe that one of my favorite movies ever was such a pathetically written book. Which just shows that the script writer for the movie is a genius. I don't believe any book needs sex scenes like that (or at all for that matter. I don't want people in my bedroom - I don't want to be in anyone else's either.) Not only that but I thought his use of language was terrible. The word "pig" came to mind.....

message 13: by [deleted user] (new)

I was about to put this book on my to read shelf but I saw your review and decided against it. Like many others I loved the movie and I don't think I'd like to have that image distorted by the type of scenes you've described here. Thank you.

message 14: by Nikki (last edited Jan 24, 2010 05:53PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Nikki The original fairy tales are extremely gory, violent and creepy. For example, Sleeping Beauty. The prince doesn't wake her with a kiss at all -- he rapes her multiple times, and she becomes pregnant and has children, all in her sleep, before she wakes.

Stardust is tame by comparison, I assure you. I haven't read it recently enough to directly address everything you and others in the comments say, but your attitude to fairy tales and fantasy writing as something sexless and tame is ridiculous. Lots of fantasy writing, both for adults and teenagers, includes sex, violence, etc. There's a particularly beautiful trilogy of books by Jacqueline Carey that is both undeniably fantasy and undeniably full of sex. I much prefer fantasy that acknowledges sexuality, all things considered: it tends to be somewhat less twee. Ditto fantasy without happy ends: who the hell said there had to be a happy end?

Nikki P.S. Considering the metafictional nature of the work, I strongly suspect the "fantasy clichés" are intentional.

Robert I can only concur with Nikki's comments - and suggest that the reviewer does not read any Roald Dahl.

message 17: by Traveller (last edited Jan 28, 2010 02:12AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Traveller Agreed, Robert (and Nikki) ...or any other adult fantasy, and most DEFINITELY not Anne Rice, or any fairy tales, for that matter, in their original form.
(Not talking about the modern, sanitised, Disney versions)

Rachel Jen: loved the review. Echoed my feelings well.

Robert, Traveller and Nikki: it's a good thing there is literature for all of us :).

message 19: by Rochelle (new)

Rochelle I know what you mean! I saw the movie first, so I was expecting this great story, but I didn't get past a few chapters from the content. I'm glad someone has the same opinion as me.

Jason Ruggles You said everything I said in my review, but better. I'd love to see a book based on the movie!

Freddy I think you miss the point entirely. The fairy tale plot was adult in that it was more real with few elements of fantasy thrown into the mix. In the real world the hero is selfish and blinded by a love he can't have. The bad guys don't always get their comeuppance and love doesn't necessary bloom from a mutual attraction.

I think your review reeks of thinly guised bias, you sound like an overtly conservative reader. If you can't stomach sex scenes or gore than you should read children's books that glance over reality with a Disney brush. Don't review a book you're not 'qualified' to read especially if you can't spell the author's name correctly it's Gaiman not Gaimon.

Maggie Thank you so much for taking the time to write this review! It describes all my doubts with this story perfectly. I'm currently reading The Graveyard Book, which in my opinion is a much better read :)

message 23: by Ilsa (new) - added it

Ilsa I was going to reserve this book at the library, but after reading this book reveiw, I think I'll just watch the movie. Thanks for warning me of the graphic content of this book.

message 24: by Traveller (last edited Apr 05, 2011 11:40AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Traveller "The criticism of the gore is valid, I would say, and I agree that especially the scene with the unicorn was a bit over the top, but if you are an adult, the "graphic sex" is really a single incident which just hints at what is happening, it's not as if it is described in pornographic detail.

After all, that is how babies are made, and this was how Tristan, the protagonist was made. The circumstances of the protagonist's parentage, is quite an important part of the story. (You need to know who his real mother is, to make the story "work". )

That said, I must caution that this is not a children's book. If you are 18 or over, you should be good to go, and if you're not ready for this book by that age yet, it is perhaps time that you learnt the facts of life and how things fit together in real life, in the next year or so.

After all, in previous centuries girls were getting married and having children by the age of 15, 16 already, and boys of the same age were getting killed on the battlefield during war time.

Even so, I must re-iterate that the gory parts are pretty unpleasant, and if you are a particularly tender-hearted person, perhaps you might want to skip it.

message 25: by Whit (new) - rated it 4 stars

Whit I would hardly call the sex graphic, and the very nature of many fairy tales are very violent, but get sugar coated to redundancy thanks to disney. This is a story with villains who want to cut out and eat the heart of a girl, it seems naive to expect an adult version would be hearts and rainbows. That said, the book didn't strike me as being noticeably graphic compared to many works of literature or even the summer blockbuster action movie, but I know that is a matter of personal perspective. Personally I think book is superior to the movie in terms of character and world development, so I guess I have to respectfully disagree.

message 26: by Fiona (new) - added it

Fiona I think what may have thrown you off is an expectation for a modern-day fairy tail, like what Disney does with many classics. Not to say that's a bad thing, I happen to love the Disney versions just as much as the originals. That said, the original fairy tales, or folk tales, are much, much more morbid and do contain violence, gore, and sexual implication. Take Snow White for example: the Queen eats (what she believes to be) a human heart, the prince attempts to buy, or take, a dead twelve year old, and the Queen is burned alive. Or even Cinderella, where the sisters cut off pieces of their feet and later have their eyes pecked out by crows. It's the original stories that Gaiman is drawing a parallel to, where dark subject matter is tackled in a child like prose.

message 27: by Jess (new) - rated it 5 stars

Jess I think you would change your mind about it if you listened to the audiobook. Listening to Neil Gaiman narrate is pure magic. Parts of it are graphic, but have you ever read the original Grimm brothers?? Hello, the Little Mermaid kills herself and Cinderella's step sisters cut off their own toes so the glass slipper will fit. Is Gaiman really more graphic than that?

Justin I don't know how graphic I'd describe that sex scene, but it was a bit more descriptive than I typically have come across. But I am surprised by your reaction to the violence, which I thought was relatively tame. Fantasies routinely include violence.

Billy You're right; you are a prude.

And his name is Gaiman.

message 30: by Sabine (new) - added it

Sabine I found this book amazing. I respect your opinion but honestly, Gaiman's writing show how human desire REALLY looks like (for more if this read The Sandman). THIS is the reality of man. This is the raw truth. But there is good sense of balance in the book. Aside from the sex and violence there is also a great amount of beauty. How a star has fallen from the sky and falls in love... There is sex because this is what people desire (look at his quotes, at the one about the witches). There is violence but for what reason? For power and men desire power as well. It is mostly the antagonists who show violence. This establishes a sense of malice. And if you're going to insult this book you could at least show some respect, dignity and the least sign of intelligence by writing his real name. GAIMAN

message 31: by Sabine (new) - added it

Sabine p.s. I agree with Fiona. One must not have expectations. When one does, one is often disappointed.

Gregory Haney Exactly my sentiments!

Jamie Because of this review, I put off reading the book thinking it was filled with sex sceans and graphic descriptions of violence. I was pleasantly surprised to read the book and find it was an enjoyable light fairy tale for adults. I do not call one paragraph of sex easily skipped if you want and some gore by the evil witch(of course the bad guy is going to be bad) "generous sprinklings." I'm don't even think it was a was one paragraph of sex and a couple of incidents of evil magic through blood. And you claim to have enjoyed the movie, I did too. And similar activities occurs in the movie and the end scene where the 3 witches were deleted we're far mor violent than anything I read in the book.

Jennie I cannot tell you how happy this review makes me! I saw the movie first, and loved it so much I read the entire book that night, only to be disgusted and disappointed. Thank you for putting into words the frustration I have felt toward this book from the beginning.

The movie, on the other hand, is far and away my favorite movie of all time. It is NOT often that I like a movie better than a book... in fact, this may be the only time. Which speaks to how awful this book was.

I understand it appeals to a lot of people, but I completely agree that adding the gratuitous sex and violence to an otherwise "fairie" story is so out of place that it's distracting, not gratifying.

Anna Grace I understand how the violence and the first sex scene in the book could have been jarring, but saying these were whimsically scattered across an otherwise childish storyline is inaccurate. The book echoes old fashioned stories you might find in Grimm's Fairy tales, which makes sense if you think about the recurring plot line of folk tales and nursery rhymes in the novel. For example in one original version of Cinderella the stepsisters cut of parts of their feet to fit into the glass slipper. I think the story was playing off the goriness of old tales such as that. Although if you don't like that sort if thing it is understandable that you didn't like the book.

message 36: by Lora (new) - rated it 2 stars

Lora It's a shame that the sex and violence of this book seem so tame to others. Over all, I agree with your review. I still enjoyed the book enough to reread it, but then it seemed I had got whatever good I was going to get out of it- for me, this meant the journey of the hero. I decided this is available in better literature than Stardust, so I got rid of Stardust. I found that something of a relief.

Debbie Gallaher Tarr Is the original comment written in all seriousness?

I am halfway through the book and halfway through the movie.

Let me address only the "graphic sex scene".

In the book, the boy gave her a chaste kiss on the cheek. The slave princess asked him to come back at night, and while in a daze, he did. They lay together looking at the stars, talking to each other, expressing verbal affection first, and then yes, made love, during which he touched her nipple. He also sentimentally felt "as if they were one". Clearly a spiritual connection, not a "sex scene". And he "pushed". Not "thrusted". When she became pregnant, she delivered the child to his father and his new wife, and the boy was raised in a healthy family setting with a sister and a mother.

In the movie - the slave princess posed in front of the boy and seductively asked him if he saw anything he liked. When he bought the flower with a chaste kiss, she turned her head and kissed him fully & deeply on the mouth. Then, in the light of day and while she was to be working, she led him into her camper and.... ok, no-one said "nipple" in the movie, but it was clear she (excuse my bluntness) wanted to get laid. And did.

Nine months later the baby was delivered to his father, where he was raised in a single parent home without a mother.

I'm sorry - could someone explain which one was more offensive?

An enchanted starlit night, under a spell, under the stars, a sentimental and romantic coupling, with affection and emotion.... or a scene reminiscent of traveling gypsy prostitutes luring men into their wagons offering sex for a price?

The book depicted some essence of romance & feeling. The movie portrayed the princess slave, sorry, but as a slut.

Just because the word "nipple" was not uttered in the movie (lol - yet somehow Robert DiNiro as a cross dresser presented no issue) - the sex scenes - the graphicness occurs in OUR MINDS. Either way - book or movie - did you not visualize or come to your own conclusion of what went unsaid but obviously occurred?

The goal in either scene was to priduce a child.

Please - those who were offended by this "graphic scene" in the book - I challenge you to rewrite the paragraph in more "appropriate" language, but with the same outcome. I'd love to see what you come up with.

Or perhaps we could do away with the scene altogether, and go with an immaculate conception, or perhaps have a stork deliver the child.

Really now. A nipple.

 Marla I saw the movie first, and I gave the book a 4 rating, but it was more like 3.5 due to these issues. I agree with the jist of your review, but liked the book in spite of that fact. My 14 year old saw I was reading it and asked if she could read it next and I had just read the first love scene and

I was expecting a story more like Princess Bride, which is a fairy tale not written for children, but with no scenes or words not appropriate for jr. high. And I don't think the stray words or love scenes and violence as they are written were necessary.

Gabriel Fequiere I personally have no issues with violence, gore or sex in my books as long as there is a place for it. I actually had no issues with that at all in this book and feel it truly added to the visuals in my head. I agree the wording in that first sex scene felt more than a tad anachronistic. What truly turned me off to the book was that everything I fell in love with in the movie was NOT in the book. The lightning pirates, especially their captain, was worth the price of admission. The fantastic climax at the witches castle was amazing to watch. It was like the author forgot to give us a denouement. At least the movie gave us a "happily ever after". The book left me so hollow inside, like so many empty calories after an all-you-can-eat buffet. This is truly the first time I can say please forget this one and stick with the movie.

Sarah Wow, I was going to write my own review...glad I didn't! You completely said it all =D I agree with your review--the "fairy tale" parts were wonderful! It was the random, "Oh, this is for postmodern can we get them to swallow it?" parts that made me wince. Well said.

Carol Agree with Nikki. I did not find it offensive in the least. To each his own, of course.

Carol Lora:
"It's a shame that the sex and violence in this book seem so tame to others."

You have got to be kidding. Seriously, you are kidding, right? That is a silly thing to say. Shame on us! Ha!

message 43: by Lora (new) - rated it 2 stars

Lora That's ok, you can give me an e-elbow in the ribs.
I really don't want a lot of sex and violence in my reading. For this book in particular, the way a couple scenes came in jarred me. By percentage they weren't a large part of the book, but their wording gave them heavy influence, at least for me. They didn't fit, and being a sex scene and a heavy swear word, etc., I had growing reasons to dislike the book.
Others want that in their books, I think I can say that I have been fully aware of that for a long time. But still, for this to be tame, the stuff others read must run quite a continuum of explicitness.
Just as some desire explicit scenes in their readings, others do not. That is simply reflected in the variety of reviews that people give.
The Brothers Grimm approaches these issues in a different way, that's all I can say.
And part of my reaction was that I had gotten the impression that this book would be ok for kids. By our standards, it was not; I felt disappointed, in the least. I also felt that the push for explicit scenes in kids lit has become an expanding problem.
That's part of why I think the way I do.

 Marla I didn't find the sex scenes especially bad, but they weren't necessary and I also thought that this book was children friendly. So expecting a sweet fairy tale, I was disappointed with the sex depicted in the story.

Caroline I happened to see the movie first and was constantly disappointed when reading the book. My favorite parts from the movie were glanced over or totally different. I normally prefer the original work to the movie, but not for this one.

Chrissy I could not agree with you more. Your comments echoed my thoughts about both the book and movie :-)

Philip Degaltini Gaiman is a genius when it comes to taking fairytale and myth and turning it into something new. As someone who wrote my thesis about fairytales I can tell you that Stardust pays homage to the grisly past of fairytales. Witches are not harmless and princesses have sex drives. Get over it. If you can't deal with it go and watch a Disney movie. Gaiman created a fairy world and colorful characters to populate it. He shocks you and scares you, but reminds you that fairytales are meant to scare you. Fairytales are meant to teach you a lesson. They're not supposed to be fun and fancy. Teaching children to behave or the witch will cook you up and eat you.

 Marla Philip wrote: "Gaiman is a genius when it comes to taking fairytale and myth and turning it into something new. As someone who wrote my thesis about fairytales I can tell you that Stardust pays homage to the gris..."

True...but...I still like my babies to stay in their treetop cradles and the witch melting in the end and the woodsman saving the girl and grandma jumping out of the dead wolf. I love Disney...

Mathew Peters Congrats on your thesis, but this book is not a masterful work. For someone supposedly writing for adults his narrative is loose, the characters one dimensional, and the prose dry and lifeless. The sex wouldn't have been a problem is it was woven into the narrative with some sort of skill, but instead it appears like he just slapped sex scenes in between plot points. This is the first book I've read that is worse than the movie.

Nikki Mathew: I think those points are subjective. To me it's obvious that Gaiman used something of the form and diction of the original fairytales. It's not a novel in that sense: it's an extended fairytale. I've yet to see Rapunzel or Snow White depicted as more than one dimensional. Besides which, I recall the prose as being filled with dry humour; if you miss the humour, perhaps it does read as lifeless...

I note that you rated Beowulf three stars, which to me is just as baffling as people with degrees thinking Gaiman's work is masterful is to you... I hope you didn't read a bad translation. Seamus Heaney's is lively but inaccurate; other translations seem to be fairly dry though more accurate.

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