My friend who comments here as Obsidian Xerxes has recommended Neil Gaiman's work to me for years. I received Stardust from my friend one Christmas, but having read crime fiction almost exclusively, it was difficult to know just when to jump to fantasy. This week—waiting for next month's DetecToday featured novel to arrive—seemed like as good a time as any. And indeed Stardust, which begins in the pastoral town of Wall, named for the wall between our reality and Faerie, was a fine introduction.
The story begins with Dunstan Thorn, who, while shopping for a gift for a girl, falls for a woman cursed to serve a witch. The woman gives birth to Tristran Thorn, whom she leaves on the village side of Wall to be raised by his human father.
Tristran grows infatuated with the much-courted Victoria Forrester, and one night he promises to bring her a fallen star in exchange for anything he desires. Knowing his son's true origins, Dunstan lets Tristran pursue the star into Faerie.
Meanwhile, a more powerful witch and two surviving princes of a cloud kingdom seek the star for different reasons.
Gaiman's confident narrative and talent for metaphor make it easy to believe in a land where stars are luminous ladies, mountains are slumbering giants, and fables and nursery rhymes are law.