The multitalented author of The Sandman graphic novels and last year’s Neverwhere charms again, with a deftly written fantasy adventure tale set in early Victorian England and enriched by familiar folk materials. In a rural town called Wall (so named for the stone bulwark that separates it from a mysterious meadow through which strange shapes are often seen moving), on “Market Day,” when the citizens of “Faerie” (land) mingle with humans, young Dunstan Thorn makes love to a bewitching maiden and is presented nine months afterward with an infant son (delivered from beyond the Wall). The latter, Tristran, grows up to fall in love himself and rashly promise his beloved that he’ll bring her the star they both observe falling from the sky. Tristran’s ensuing quest takes him deep into Faerie, and, unbeknownst to him, competition with the star’s other pursuers: three weird sisters (the Lilim), gifted with magical powers though still susceptible to “the snares of age and time”; and the surviving sons of the late Lord of Stormhold, accompanied everywhere by their several dead brothers (whom they happen to have murdered). Tristran finds his star (in human form, no less); survives outrageous tests and mishaps, including passage on a “sky-ship” and transformation into a dormouse; and, safely returned to Wall, acquires through a gracious act of renunciation his (long promised) “heart’s desire.” Gaiman blends these beguiling particulars skillfully in a comic romance, reminiscent of James Thurber’s fables, in which even throwaway minutiae radiate good-natured inventiveness (e.g., its hero’s narrow escape from a “goblin press-gang” seeking human mercenaries to fight “the goblins’ endless wars beneath the earth”). There are dozens of fantasy writers around reshaping traditional stories, but none with anything like Gaiman’s distinctive wit, warmth, and narrative energy. Wonderful stuff, for kids of all ages.