It took me longer to finish Stardust than it usually does to finish a new book, days instead of hours. It was a slow journey through a magical woods, not a quick free-fall into another world and back out into my own. Each night I would read one chapter before curling up and falling asleep each night, following the young Dunstan Thorn through the stalls at the fair, leaving his son Tristran Thorne as he crossed the meadow "beyond the fields we know," leaving a mysterious female voice after some unseen being has fallen from the sky into a glade of elm trees and hazel bushes, leaving me wondering whether Tristran will find that fallen star again once she has run away from him. (Perhaps the sound of rustling trees and the silver glow of moonlight filled my dreams after I wandered through Gaiman's fictional woods). Reading a book slowly gave me more time to think about the story, to care more deeply about the characters.
Dunstan Thorne has been granted his heart's desire by a mysterious man he meets before the fair, and his first-born child (and that first-born child's first-born child) in turn. Dunstan's desire is Daisy Hempstock (or so he thinks); Tristran's desire is to find the fallen star in order to win the hand of (or a kiss from) Victoria Forester. But strange things happen, and the path to what they desire - or even what they ultimately desire - is not what they expect to find. Which is as it is in real life. Somehow the journey towards what you want most changes as you get closer; detours and roadblocks sometimes appear. Or when you find your heart's desire it turns out to be in a different form, as Tristran reaches his fallen star and finds her a young girl, with hair so pale it seems almost light, her leg broken in her fall to earth. (Or is it earth when she has landed in Faerie?).
In the end Tristran and the star - Yvaine is her name - find their way back to Wall, remaining on the side of Faerie (for if Yvaine crosses the wall into Wall she will become a lump of cold stone, for that is the form a fallen star would take on Earth). But Tristran has walked through fire and through distant lands and floated across the sky in a flying ship and taken the form of a dormouse in order to pass on in safety. When he returns to Wall he is no longer the same, just as we are never the same after a journey. And his heart's desire is not Victoria Forester, but Yvaine, with whom he spends the rest of his life, most of it happy. "Not foreverafter, for Time, the thief, eventually takes all things into his dusty storehouse." But then that is how life flows past us all, leaving us happy for a time, if not forever. It is enough to have it for a little while.
Gaiman, Neil. Stardust. HarperPerennial, 2006. p 247.