Cover design: gray318
Pages: 194 (+ extras)
Publisher: Headline Review
First published: 1 February 1999
This edition published: 19 September 2005
On the cover:
In the sleepy English countryside at the dawn of the Victorian era, life moves at a leisurely pace in the tiny town of Wall. Young Tristran Thorn has lost his heart to the beautiful Victoria Forester, but Victoria is as cold and distant as the star she and Tristran see fall from the sky one evening. For the price of Victoria's hand, Tristran vows to retrieve the star for his beloved. It is an oath that sends the lovelorn swain over the town's ancient wall and into a world that is dangerous and strange beyond imagining...
This is a story that is in some ways Epic Fantasy, it is at its core a quest story. But it is structured very much like a Fairy Tale. And as many Fairy Tales do, it has a tendency to be very economically written. At one point you get a twenty page chapter describing a journey that could easily have been expanded to a two hundred page sequence in Epic Fantasy.
This economy in the telling of the story is by no means a flaw, it makes for a lean story that still is satisfyingly rich on the necessary details.
What the story is really about is coming of age, at the beginning of the story Tristran, our hero, is a typical teenager. But through the events of the story, he ends up as a much more mature person when it is finished. In that respect I have no problem with classifying this as Young Adult, although I am not sure it was written as such.
The journey we follow Tristran on is all about discovering new things. We are quickly led from our world in to a much more fantastic one, populated by the creatures of Fairy Tale and Legend. The glimpses we get of this world are intriguing and very well written. Gaiman manages to show the setting without resorting to "descriptionitis" (...well, it is a word now if it wasn't before). You get a good feeling of how the world beyond the wall functions, and who its inhabitants is.
We do not only follow Tristran in this novel, there are four different viewpoints that gradually come together. This may seem as many for such a short novel, but it works very well. They are connected and they give the reader an opportunity to see more of what's going on, and thus get a greater understanding of the significance of the events described.
The characters are all interesting, and the different viewpoints works very well in showing off the different agendas they have. They also give us a chance of getting more details of the world the story is set in.
This is not the most complex novel out there by a far margin, but it doesn't try to be either. What it is, is a beautiful Fairy Tale that takes you on an interesting and satisfying journey.
It is a great book for anyone who likes Fairy Tales, and although it is in some ways a Young Adult novel, I wouldn't hesitate to recommend it to lovers of Fantasy of any age. This is a quick read that gives you much more than its page count suggests.
NOTE: I don't usually give any space to the extra material in my reviews, but I have to do so here. Included is a short prologue called Wall, which Gaiman mentions in his afterword as a story he may one day tell. It's inclusion makes me urge you to get this exact edition of the book if you plan to buy it.