Themes Explored: fantasy, urban fantasy, restlessness, adventure, danger, evil, the underworld, life, romance, action, death, magic, shadows, mysticism, assassins, invisibility, time-travel, angels, fall from grace, power, darkness, legend, fighting, religion, dreams, destiny
Summary: Under the streets of London there’s a place most people could never even dream of. A city of monsters and saints, murderers and angels, knights in armour and pale girls in black velvet. This is the city of the people who have fallen between the cracks.
Richard Mayhew, a young businessman, is going to find out more than enough about this other London. A single act of kindness catapults him out of his workday existence and into a world that is at once eerily familiar and utterly bizarre. And a strange destiny awaits him down here, beneath his native city: Neverwhere. (From Goodreads)
Review: Neil Gaiman is one of those authors that I am familiar with but have not read a lot of his work. Before picking up this book at my local Barnes &Noble, the only other books of his that I had read was Stardust. So I did not quite know what to expect when I opened the front cover. Neverwhere originally began as a one shot television mini-series that aired on the BBC in 1996. Apparently, Gaiman decided to write a novelization in order to expand the story and add back in all the cut scenes and dialogue. The result is a weirdly fascinating jaunt through a mystical and highly dangerous alternate London. Gaiman possess a dry wit and this is highly reflected in his characterizations. Overall, I found Neverwhere to be an engaging, albeit rather dark, read. It read like a very adult version of Alice in Wonderland; only, in this case, Wonderland is an alternative London.
Neverwhere tells the story of Richard Mayhew, a Scotsman living in London. Like most people experience at one time or another, he is currently stuck in a rut. Life is not bad, but it is not exciting either. Richard has a high strung fiancée, Jessica, a job that he is mostly content with, and friends. However all of this is disrupted when an injured girl mysteriously seems to fall out of a solid brick wall. Despite Jessica’s protestations, Richard decides to help the girl. So he takes the girl back to his apartment. The next day Jessica breaks up with him because he stood her up the night before and then everything else in his life goes wrong. He wakes up in the morning and it is as if he never existed.
Richard is than launched on a mind-bending adventure through the glittering world of the underground London. He is introduced to the mass of underground railway stations, and a group of people that are living rather content lives beneath the London Above. Eventually, Richard manages to find the girl he rescued, name Door, at a Floating Market, which is taking place at Harrods. Door’s motley companions include a con man named the Marquis de Carabas and a bodyguard Hunter. Along with Richard they go on a journey throughout London Below to find out why Door’s parents were murdered and who had them killed. With assassins constantly dodging their every move, Richard slowly embraces his new reality and loses the bonds that anchored him to London Above.
By the time the last chapter finishes, the reader will experience the full gamut of emotions in dealing with Richard. He is a little frustrating at first, but then he eventually embraces his own strengths and develops the courage to embrace this unexpected adventure. Richard begins the book as a slightly depressed and browbeaten person. While he has a solid job, he secretly hates the monotony of never ending office work. His fiancée is obsessed with appearances and only appreciate Richard for what he could be and not what he is in the present. Jessica wants him to be a highly successful man in either politics or business and constantly nags Richard to become more ambitious. Almost from the day they met, Jessica launched a full scale mission to bring Richard up to her exacting standards. One gets the idea that he will never be good enough but that Jessica does not want to put in any effort to find someone else. Then, one day, Richard stands up to Jessica and rescues a bleeding Door. As Richard follows Door and her companions through London Underground he slowly grows into himself and discovers that he is more courageous and self-sufficient then he thought. Gaiman does an excellent job maturing Richard’s character. The man at the beginning of the book is vastly different from the one at the end. Anyone who has ever longed for a little more adventure in their life could relate to Richard.
Door and her misfits are definitely the less conventional characters. The Marquis de Carabas is a mysterious con man who helps Door out of obligation but is secretly quite fond of her. His motivations remain shadowy for most of the novel but he is always looking to make a deal on the side. Of all the characters, the Marquis is definitely the funniest; though is a very dry and ironic sense. Hunter, Door’s bodyguard, is very good at hunting and not much else. She is very quiet and never wastes time on superfluous words. However, all is not as it seems and she reveals her true motivations at the worst possible time for the other characters. Door is actually a rather conventional heroine. She is on a mission to determine who killed her father and will not stop until she uncovers the mystery. However, she is also highly apologetic for the turmoil she unleashed in Richard’s life and tries to right her wrongs. Richard and her form a slightly romantic relationship, that is more hinted at than revealed.
Of course this would not be a proper urban fantasy nightmare without some truly terrifying villains. Mr. Coup and Mr. Vandemar fill this role with gusto. They are a team of assassins for hire; though Coup is the slick talker and Vandemar is the brawn. Neither of them possesses any scruples and they freely state that they have no redeeming qualities. And, based upon some clues interwoven through several of Coup’s monologues, they are either immortal or have the ability to time-travel. They make decent villains but are very one-dimensional.
Neverwhere combines a little dash of mythology, some supernatural elements, a bunch of urban drama, and a whole lot of London. Gaiman went out of his way to make his depiction of London as geographically accurate as possible. He throws in a lot of landmarks and references, which makes the experience all the more authentic. The novel is exceedingly well written and engaging. If you are a fan of urban fantasy, London, or Neil Gaiman, then I recommend the book.
Neverwhere: Author’s Preferred Text, HarperCollins, 2016 (reprint), ISBN: 9780062459084