Reviews Logo
SearchHomeContents PageSite Map
Neil Gaiman and Charles Vess
Vertigo/DC Comics, 224 pages
Avon Books, 238 pages

A review by Alice Dechene

Art: Charles Vess
Charles Vess
Charles Vess has been an artist and writer in the field of comics for over two decades. Some of his graphic novels include The Horns of Elfland (Archival Press, 1979) and Spirits of the Earth (Marvel Comics, 1990). He self-publishes a fairy-tale anthology comic, The Book of Ballads and Sagas, which has featured the work of Neil Gaiman, Jane Yolen, Charles de Lint, Jeff Smith, and Emma Bull, through his own Green Man Press. An exhibition of Charles Vess' work in Stardust was featured during the first half of 1998 at the Cartoon Art Museum in San Fransisco, California.

ISFDB Bibliography

Usually when I am pregnant, I foolishly pick up horrific mysteries, or long entangled descriptions of family dysfunction, or mutation-causing ecological disasters. Not the best of bedtime reading. But this time, I wound up with a fairytale.

Dunstan Thorn, a rather simple fellow, unknowingly is granted his Heart's Desire as payment for three days of lodging by a visitor to the Faerie Market. While Dunstan's Desire is fulfilled easily enough, that of his first-born (for of course being magical this rent payment has to go on a long time) balloons into quite the magical quest. A foolish promise to the beautiful Victoria Forester leads Tristran Thorn to travel Faerie in search of a Fallen Star -- the particular Star, in fact, viewed by Victoria at the particular moment of Tristran's attempt to woo her. Two other groups converge on the same quest -- witches seeking youth and brothers competing for the family stronghold -- which turns Tristran's seemingly straightforward journey into quite the perilous adventure. Through many twists and turns, all ends well, as of course fairy tales must, and as happily as real life will allow.

To me, what make this book was the interplay of Gaiman's beautiful prose and Charles Vess' stunning illustrations. The two have worked together in the past -- most recently in the pages of Vess' self-published comic, The Book of Ballads and Sagas -- but here the collaboration is really given room to breathe. The story alone is wonderful, but enhanced by the gorgeous artwork on nearly every page (175 colour paintings in total) this book becomes a treasure. As the mother of two preschoolers, I feel obligated to point out that this is an adult tale. But that was part of what made the book so alluring: someone actually bothered to illustrate a fairytale for grownups.

Neil Gaiman and Charles Vess's Stardust is a lovely story in the grand tradition of Oscar Wilde and Thackeray of fairy tales for adults. Loving attention has been paid to the language, which flows beautifully, drawing the reader effortlessly into a world of Faerie made even more real by the lavish artwork. Gaiman says he penned rather than typed this manuscript, and it does have quite the old-fashioned feel without being stilted or archaic.

This is a curl-up-with-hot-cocoa, by the fireside kind of book, to be savoured on a blustery night. I certainly did.

Copyright © 1999 by Alice Dechene

Alice taught Comparative Literature and French at the University of Illinois. Her time is taken up these days with her two children, and the preparations for her third. She misses school, but reading and fairy tales help.

A review by Neil Walsh

Design: Russell Gorson
Neil Gaiman
Neil Gaiman is the author of one of the most critically acclaimed comic books of the decade, the Sandman series from DC Comics. He is also the author of a collection of short stories, Angels and Visitations, and the co-author (with Terry Pratchett) of Good Omens. His first anthology was The Sandman Book of Dreams, edited with Ed Kramer. He is the creator and author of the BBC series "Neverwhere," which inspired his novel of the same name. Born in England, he now lives in Minnesota.

ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: Smoke and Mirrors: Short Fictions and Illusions
SF Site Review: Neverwhere
SF Site Review: The Day I Swapped My Dad for Two Goldfish
SF Site Review: The Sandman: Book of Dreams

Tristran Thorn, of the 19th century English town of Wall, wants nothing more than to be a good and simple sheep farmer -- and to marry Victoria Forester. Victoria, however, will have nothing to do with him. Unless he can fetch the falling star they spy in the night sky above.

Victoria believes she is making it clear to Tristran that he hasn't got the faintest hope with her, but Tristran (responding to subtlety in truly masculine fashion) takes her at her word and wanders off to find the star. The only thing is, the star has fallen on the other side of the wall for which the town of Wall is named. And beyond the gap in this wall lies the Realm of Faerie...

Tristran is an endearingly stoic character who takes everything in stride, even the wonders and the horrors of Faerie. His adventures are quite strange, charming, entertaining, frightening and amusing. This is a fairy tale for adults -- a genre which Gaiman is particularly adept at writing -- and a delightful foray into the sense of wonder that fairy tales evoked when we were young.

It's also a book that has technically seen 3 previous editions. It was first published in 1997-98 as a 4-part DC Comics series, illustrated by Charles Vess. The series was then collected in hardcover by DC in November 1998, with all of Charles Vess' colour illustrations. In August 1998, it saw a limited "publicity edition" published by Avon in a handsome slipcase, as noted on the copyright page of the current edition. The Avon/Spike hardcover is the first wider market release, and the first one without Vess' illustrations. It's also the first book from Avon's new Spike imprint.

The lack of the Charles Vess illustrations in this edition may be a sad loss, but it cannot diminish the quality of the writing. Stardust is still a joyful reminder to adults of the magic and adventure it once was to be a child.

Copyright © 1999 by Neil Walsh

Neil Walsh is a Canadian currently living in London, England. He speaks fluent Canadian and is learning English.

SearchContents PageSite MapContact UsCopyright

If you find any errors, typos or anything else worth mentioning, please send it to
Copyright © 1996-2014 SF Site All Rights Reserved Worldwide