First, let me express that I am certainly a fan of Gaiman's work, and have read a great deal that he's written. From "The Sandman" to "Neverwhere" (including "Black Orchid", "Mr. Punch", "Angels & Reflections", "Death", and others), I have thoroughly enjoyed the way this man puts together characters, stories, plots, scenes, and settings. I have just enjoyed so much that he's done.
I fully expected to enjoy this book, but was sorely disappointed. Why, you might ask? (...) It's a rambling narrative set in a poorly explored and half-imagined world of fairy tale magic and Carroline witticisms. Please, let me explain.
The most specific criticism I have is that the plot meanders from one conflict to another without ever fully realising any real tension; instead of allowing the characters to overcome their own challenges, they are offered weak and easy "outs" from all of their difficulties (deus ex machina); or, in the case of the final and expected confrontation at the end of the book (that was slowly built towards throughout), the antagonist witch simply perishes before the protagonists are allowed to reach her and engage in any appreciable and entertaining skirmish.
Characters are too easily introduced and abandoned, settings are drifted through without rhyme or reason, conflict and comedy are whispered of and are gone... Every word in this book puts me in mind of an episodic story a grandparent might tell a young child at bedtime: the events of the previous nights' episodes are too readily forgotten; the details are fanciful and unimportant, grasped at in a desperate attempt to fill an evening; the ending obligatory, uninspired and uninspiring.
I urge anyone interested in Neil Gaiman to not be discouraged by this book or this review. He is a good author, and worthy of your attention. This particular tale though, is best left to gather dust.