by Neil Gaiman
304 pages, Fantasy
Reviewed by Ariel_of_Narnia

A fairytale with interesting elements and turns, but beware sexual, magical, and language content.


Tristran, in his youthful passion, swears to do whatever it takes to win the hand of the village belle, even to fetch for her the star they saw plummeting from the sky. No matter that the star landed in Faerie. No matter that passing from the village into Faerie is forbidden. No matter that his path will cross those of curious characters, malicious witches, and power-hungry princes.


The line between good and bad is generally pretty clear, but not always. Intentions are not always what they seem.
Tristran mistreats a woman, but regrets it and amends his ways, becoming her companion rather than her captor and even saving her life.
Help comes from unexpected quarters, just as trouble arises from others.

Spiritual Content

Tristran's father blesses his son with, “May God and all His angels go with you.” Tristran later states that Providence brought two parties together. A reference to “Pilgrim’s Progress” is made. Tristran recites Psalm 23 (though none of the text is given). A vicar lives in the village. “In the name of Heaven” is said once. The Devil is referenced in passing a couple times.
There are enchantments and magical items of all sorts. Witches play important roles throughout the book. A pool of blood allows for communication over a great distance. Entrails and runes are used to divine answers.
The spirits of the dead are able to walk among the living, sometimes being seen and sometimes not. A dead creature is reanimated.
Someone wonders if a witch transforms people into animals or if she “finds the beast inside us and frees it”.
A coin is considered lucky. Another lucky token is given to Tristran.


Two men tussle, with one man being thrown to the ground twice to no ill effect. A couple bones are broken. A man burns his hand in a fire. A woman bites her tongue until she draws blood. A man is struck in the head, stunning him. Another is bitten by a snake. A lion and unicorn fight. A unicorn spears a man in the head and a woman in the shoulder; it kicks another woman. The serewood devours living things, leaving only skeletons behind. Witches seek to consume a heart to regain their youth. A man’s throat is slit, gushing out a fountain of blood. Violent threats are made.
It is mentioned that two sets of four men were murdered by their brothers. A man secretly wishes that two more of his sons were dead. Another man is murdered; a couple other attempts are made.
A woman skins and guts an animal. She and two others thrust their hands into the carcass. A unicorn is slain by a knife wound through the eye and its head is later hacked off.
Eyes are sold at the market.

Drug and Alcohol Content

There's plenty of drinking. A couple of characters smoke.

Sexual Content

Tristran learns of sex at fourteen “by a process of osmosis, of dirty jokes, whispered secrets and filthy ballads”. He tries to peep in on a pretty girl in the village. He later asks if he may kiss her; she refuses him, but allows him to hold her hand. Other boys are also interested in this girl and even older, married men stare at her. Tristran later kisses his lady love.
A man takes notice of a beautiful woman other than the lass he is interested in; he gives her a chaste kiss on the cheek as a payment for a purchase. He later kisses her on the mouth and they have relations (he feels her and they disrobe, sweat, and both give and take); she bears him a son. He also impulsively kisses his lady friend on the cheek. They later marry.
Girls discuss the pros and cons of marrying a widower.
Two old women eye a younger woman’s naked body “hungrily”, though it's out of jealousy of her youth. A woman helps another undress and bathe.
A lord makes love to a barmaid, making her disrobe for inspection first. One port-village contains women who are “much-married”, having multiple husbands. These men are likewise known to be unfaithful. A woman not yet married is with child, presumably by her groom-to-be. The John Donne poem that opens the book references impregnation and mandrake roots.

Crude or Profane Language or Content

F*** - 1
D**n - 4
B**tard - 1
Bugger - 2
Bi**h - 1
A woman is referred to as a slut.
Tristran is rarely spoken to by his stepmother and teased mercilessly by his sister and other children. Tristran’s captive throws a number of names at him, particularly early in their time together.
Someone tells of a man who ate live snakes and hairy centipedes. Someone else passes gas. Several mentions of characters relieving themselves, often with the word “piss”.


In its favour, I'll say that this fantasy story had some unexpected turns and elements that were pleasing. Unfortunately, it also had unexpected elements that had the opposite effect.

Fun Score: 4
Values Score: 2
Written for Age: adult

Review Rating:

Average rating: 5 stars
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