Neil Gaiman is a favorite out there in the blog world, from what I can see, and my mom has been begging me to read him for months – ever since my brother introduced her to his work – and so, after hitting a slump in reading, it was SO refreshing to just get completely lost in both The Graveyard Book and Stardust. Having powered through both in less than a week, I immediately went out and put American Gods on my waiting list, which I’m still waiting on. But I’ve got reviews of both The Graveyard Book and Stardust, so strap yourself in for a mini-Neil-fest.
The Graveyard Book was actually the second book I read after Stardust, but I liked it a bit more, so I’m going to review it first! The book follows Bod (short for Nobody) Owens, a boy who lives his entire life under the care and guidance of the ghosts in his local graveyard. After a murder eliminates his entire family as a baby, Bod makes his way to the graveyard where he is adopted and looked after by the Owens. He is also looked after by Silas, a man who is neither dead or alive (there are allusions to his being a vampire), who lives in the graveyard but is still able to venture to the land of the living to get food and supplies for Bod. He is also taught by Miss Lupescu when Silas is away from the graveyard. She ends up being a werewolf, and is just one of the many fantastical figures in the book (others include a group of dastardly ghouls, a witch named Liza Hempstock, and a mysterious smoke monster named the Sleer). Bod lives his playing in graves and only gets to see the world of the living on the night of the Dance Macabre, when the living and the dead come together to dance (which also happened to be one of my favorite chapters).
The book is a wonderful, wonderful book, and a true representation of what could most fully be considered an adult fairy tale. Bod has a number of adventures with the people of the graveyard, some of my favorite of which include, as I said above, the Dance Macabre and his visits to the Sleer, a creepy disembodied smoke-voice combo that is never truly identified but spends all eternity waiting for its master to return. The illustrations by Dave McKean are wonderful, dark and heavy with quick pen-strokes (as though the pictures themselves are caught between living and not living) and highlight the content of the book really, really well. I think one of my favorite characters was Silas, mostly because he is never really fully explained (why isn’t he living or dead, why is he as wise as he is, exactly what is his relationship to Miss. Lupescu) but is often full of the kind of wisdom that is often most helpful – the wisdom of common sense and practicality.
Perhaps the biggest problem I had with the book was the lack of full explanations. There were some questions left when I was done reading that I wished were answered (most of which had to do with the origins of the people/things in the graveyard), not that it was instrumental to the plot. It just would have been nice to have! Be prepared for a darker tale (which may not surprise the frequent readers of Gaiman, but which threw me off a little bit) but the book is wonderfully crafted and will literally make you feel like you were living in a graveyard. You know, if living in the graveyard was the norm.
Stardust was quite a different read when compared to The Graveyard Book! The tone is much lighter, and the book is much more so follows the classic fairy tale line. The book follows Yvaine, a fallen star who lands in the land of Fairie, just beyond the human world of Wall. Tristran Thorne, a half-Fairie man, sets out to fetch the fallen star for his lady love. However, he is not the only one who is after her – a witch looking for eternal beauty and a trio of brothers who need the star to claim the ruling of their father’s kingdom are also after her. Yvaine is immortal while she remains in the land of Fairie, but the minute she steps through the gap in the stone wall between Wall and Fairie, she would cease to exist, but Tristran doesn’t know this. He finds her and ties her up, although she escapes and has encounters with both the three brothers and the witch, although the book does have a happy (or at least justified) ending for everyone involved. I won’t spell it all out, because this is one of those books that is made or broken by the details) but sure to say that if it doesn’t make you feel all warm and fairy-tale-y inside, perhaps you really are dead inside.
Gaiman, again, manages to incorporate both the adult and the child, bringing aspects of both to the story that adds a number of layers to both understanding and appreciation. I fould Yvaine to be a bit of a flat character, but she could be the perfect heroine for a younger reader. Along the same lines, there was a bit of graphic violence and sex that would definitely not be appropriate for younger readers, but is just a bit of the normal for adult fiction. I don’t want to say that the blend made the book better, as the book would have been great had it been an all-adult or all-child book, but it was definitely interesting to see the mixture of the two work so well together! Rumor has it there is also a movie of this book out there, but I’d rather keep this one strictly to the pages.
Neil Gaiman is a force to be reckoned with, for sure! His books are innovative, touching, sometimes scary, always appreciable. The five star here is for Graveyard, the four star for Stardust, as I thought that Stardust was a bit more contrived than Graveyard, but both are good, as I don’t have to tell the die-hard Gaiman fans. I’m hoping that American Gods lives up to the hopes I’m slowly starting to develop for Gaiman, and if anyone out there has any more recommendations of his work, I’d love to hear it! Happy reading!