I don't know why, but I have always been under the impression that I had read Stardust, by Neil Gaiman. I had seen the film, but for some reason it didn't seem like the book I remembered.
There are 2 reasons for that -- first, I had never actually read the book, and second, the film bears only a passing resemblance to the book. (No cross-dressing pirate, a lot more colorful characters...a much better ending...you get the drift.)
First published in 1998, Stardust is a beautiful, lyrical and sometimes violent journey into fairyland.
Young Tristran Thorn will do anything to win the cold heart of beautiful Victoria—even fetch her the star they watch fall from the night sky. But to do so, he must enter the unexplored lands on the other side of the ancient wall that gives their tiny village its name. Beyond that old stone wall, Tristran learns, lies Faerie—where nothing, not even a fallen star, is what he imagined.
From #1 New York Times bestselling author Neil Gaiman comes a remarkable quest into the dark and miraculous—in pursuit of love and the utterly impossible.
First off let me just say I loved this book. Tristran is naive yet brave, and obsessed with the notion of true love. Victoria is snobbish and not really worthy of him. Yvaine has all the best qualities of a true star--she is coldly, amazingly beautiful, and childish.
The Lord of Stormhold and his heirs are awesome characters. They are not evil, but they are not good (good people don't kill each other as they scrap their way to the throne.)
There are 3 evil characters in this tale (though one is not a character, it's more of a doom): The obviously evil Morwanneg who wants to cut out the heart of the star so she and her sister will regain eternal youth, Madame Semele who is just plain greedy and who holds Tristran's mother captive, and the overhanging evil of what will happen to Yvaine if Tristran succeeds in taking her back to Victoria.
Each and every sentence of this book is beautiful. I fell into the prose and the dream that the tale evokes and didn't want to emerge even for food. This ability to draw a scene and set it with both mystery and clarity is why Gaiman is one of my favorite authors.
If you have seen the movie, and think you know the story, you couldn't be more wrong. The book holds more magic, love, epic adventure and sheer fairy tale inventiveness than the movie ever could.