Mini-Reviews: Stardust & The Lady’s Guide to Petticoats and PiracyStardust by Neil Gaiman
Published by Harper Perennial Genres: Fairytale, Fantasy
Pages: 248
Format: Audiobook
Source: Purchased

Life moves at a leisurely pace in the tiny town of Wall - named after the imposing stone barrier which separates the town from a grassy meadow. Here, young Tristan Thorn has lost his heart to the beautiful Victoria Forester and for the coveted prize of her hand, Tristan vows to retrieve a fallen star and deliver it to his beloved. It is an oath that sends him over the ancient wall and into a world that is dangerous and strange beyond imagining.

When Victoria tells Tristran Thorn that she’ll marry him if he can  fetch a fallen star for her, the poor sod believes her. Only a foolish youngster like Tristran could have the heart for what happens next. Heading out from his parochial home in the village of Wall, Tristan plunges headlong into Faerie. Where, as it turns out, quite a few other people are interested in that fallen star…

Stardust is a sweet and rather straightforward fairytale, with Gaiman’s characteristic beautiful yet irreverent style. I think I may be in the minority here, but I actually liked how short and almost barebones this story is. There’s not much by way of description (which I usually crave), and the plot rockets ahead. I think the simplicity of it all is what kept Stardust from being a five-star read for me, but conversely, it’s also what I liked best about it. 

As part of my seemingly endless project to Read My Own Damn Books, I’ve read quite a few works by Neil Gaiman. What I’ve observed is this: his heroes are kind of…idiots. This is clearly intentional on his part, with a character arc moving from Stage 1: naive and bumbling but essentially goodhearted to Stage 2: Full Hero Mode. Stardust is no exception. 

Tristran is naive and clueless, maybe a little selfish, but at the heart of things he’s a good egg. Yvaine, however, is the star of the show. No really, she’s a literal star! Having recently been knocked out of the sky and down onto earth, she’s quite reasonably Unhappy About The State of Things. Yvaine’s array of withering insults charmed me completely. While I was completely enraptured by Faerie, Yvaine remained unimpressed. This deliberate distance between reader and character was quite fun, and a good example of Gaiman’s cleverness.

I don’t think I would’ve enjoyed Stardust nearly as much had I read it in print. I listened to the audiobook – Neil Gaiman is the narrator, and of course he does an amazing job. His delivery of the jokes and little ironic moments really brought this up a level for me. Highly recommend the audiobook version.

Mini-Reviews: Stardust & The Lady’s Guide to Petticoats and PiracyThe Lady's Guide to Petticoats and Piracy by Mackenzi Lee
Published by HarperCollins on October 2, 2018
Genres: Action & Adventure, Historical, Young Adult
Pages: 464
Format: Audiobook
Source: Received from publisher

In this highly anticipated sequel to the New York Times bestselling The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue, Felicity Montague must use all her womanly wits and wiles to achieve her dreams of becoming a doctor—even if she has to scheme her way across Europe to do it. A must-have for fans of Mackenzi Lee’s extraordinary and Stonewall Honor-winning novel.

A year after an accidentally whirlwind grand tour with her brother Monty, Felicity Montague has returned to England with two goals in mind—avoid the marriage proposal of a lovestruck suitor from Edinburgh and enroll in medical school. However, her intellect and passion will never be enough in the eyes of the administrators, who see men as the sole guardians of science.

But then a window of opportunity opens—a doctor she idolizes is marrying an old friend of hers in Germany. Felicity believes if she could meet this man he could change her future, but she has no money of her own to make the trip. Luckily, a mysterious young woman is willing to pay Felicity’s way, so long as she’s allowed to travel with Felicity disguised as her maid.

In spite of her suspicions, Felicity agrees, but once the girl’s true motives are revealed, Felicity becomes part of a perilous quest that leads them from the German countryside to the promenades of Zurich to secrets lurking beneath the Atlantic.

This sequel can be read as a standalone, but you should absolutely read the first book. In this adventure, we’re following Lady Felicity Montague in her continued quest to become a doctor. She’s broken with Society to study in Edinburgh, where cutting-edge medical education is at its peak. The only trouble? Despite her knowledge, no one will let Felicity anywhere near a medical classroom because she doesn’t have what it takes (namely, a penis).

Through a bizarre sequence of events, Felicity’s last chance at a future in medicine reunites her with her ex-best friend, Joanna. Once upon a time the two girls were inseparable, but then Joanna’s burgeoning love of dresses and ribbons signalled the end of their friendship. Felicity must convince Joanna – and a mysterious woman named Sim – to help her despite their past. But is it possible that Joanna and Sim have their own goals, dreams, and missions to carry out?

If romantic love was the heart of Monty’s book, platonic love is the heart of Felicity’s. At the beginning of her story, Felicity ‘not-like-other-girls’, but her  prejudices and assumptions are soon turned on their heads. Her narrow ideas about what makes someone smart and worthy, hurt the people around her – and herself. When she has to lean on Joanna and Sim to realize her goals, Felicity finally understands that there’s more than one way to be a “worthwhile” woman. The friendship vibes are strong with this one! When it seems like romance may be on the horizon, it’s strongly implied that Felicity is aromantic or asexual, which is a welcome change.

The Lady’s Guide to Petticoats and Piracy does not lean into the romanticism of most historical fiction. The reality is that being a woman was very difficult, and being a “lady doctor” even moreso. Felicity doesn’t have any quick wins but she does carve out a place for herself as a woman in a man’s world. Don’t be fooled: this atmospheric realism doesn’t extend to the plot, which becomes pretty outlandish in the final chapters. Still, this is a funny, quirky, smart, and ironic story. If you enjoy adventures where anything can – and does – happen, and you’re willing to suspend the tiniest bit of disbelief, you’ll have a grand time.