Stardust by Neil Gaiman, Headline 1999, 278pp.
More Gaiman (see reviews #82, "Good Omens" and #80, "American Gods"), since I found it at a real used bookshop for £3. I have been working my way through the used section of Book Lovers' London.
In this book Gaiman has a straight shot at a fairy story, or perhaps more properly a Faerie story. Half-elf Tristan Thorn lives in Wall, an English town that has a border with Faerie, and vows to retrieve a fallen star for his beloved. Apart from a lively sex scene at Tristan's conception, and the pretty fallen star-girl saying "Ow. Fuck.", Gaiman wisely resists any modern-day knowingness or irony. And I think he captures a bit of the yearning and beauty that I expect from this genre -- Smith of Wootton Major springs to mind, as does Lord Dunsany (whom Gaiman invokes in his afterword). Some Amazon reviewers compare Stardust to The Princess Bride, which is wholly different, being completely modern in sensibility and much much funnier. Occasionally The Last Unicorn sprang to mind, although that book is more idiosyncratic (and its memory is dimmed by the crappy animated DVD that I watched a while back). I think the rope of cat's-breath and fish-scales may have been an allusion to Mr Beagle.
Finally, though, Stardust fails to be memorable. The villains are all foiled too easily. And all the references to familiar Faerie tropes feel strung together. It all comes too quickly to Gaiman, and I prefer more intricate and long-distilled writers like Tolkien. Still, Gaiman is a phenomenon. I have not seen the heavily-illustrated version and will keep an eye out for one to scan in a store.