Quick plot synopsis: Neverwhere is the story of Richard Mayhew, a boring, typical Londoner with a job, an apartment and a fiancee. Richard has his life sorted out, there’s no need for bravery or heroics or even creativity, he’s perfectly content following his fiancee’s lead and gliding through life.
His life takes a dramatic turn when a an injured girl magically appears in the middle of the sidewalk. Despite his fiancee’s protests, in a strange moment of defiance and courage, Richard decides to carry her back to his flat and care for her. The girl, Door, makes the odd request that Richard go in search of a man known as Marquis de Carabas. Thus begins an incredible adventure when Richard learns of the existence of a “London Below” – a wild city of danger, magic, mystery and decaying history lying beneath modern London’s streets. Door is being hunted, and it is up to Richard and motley crew of allies to get them both out alive.
My thoughts: As a complete and total anglophile who had the pleasure of living in London last summer, this book is a must read for anyone who has ever loved the city. That being said, this book has it’s strong points and a few weaknesses.
In typical Gaiman fashion, the characters are bizarre, fascinating and incredibly entertaining. The Marquis de Carabas is a highlight and Hunter is one of my favorite supporting characters in modern fantasy literature. As the story progresses, you grow to like Door more as her character develops, but Richard can get a bit wearing given his tendency to be slow on the uptake and his habit of complaining. Door’s special power, the ability to create a door on any surface, at any time, with which she can go through, creates an elaborate and bizarre concept of space and time to “London Below.” The underground city itself is as much of a character in the book as Door or Richard. This book also features two of the most frightening and terrifying villains ever, Mister Croup and Mister Vandemar (I would really suggest listening to the audiobook of Neverwhere, because the voice acting for the villains is fantastic.) They remain fairly two dimensional, but in some ways that heightens their terrifying presence. An enemy you do not have an understanding with tends to be more scary.
The plot follows some common fantasy troupes, but the occasionally predictable moments do not spoil the overall story. The disadvantage to Door’s power and the “London Above” versus the “London Below” conundrum is that the reader can be easily disoriented concerning what space the characters are actually in at the moment. There are several parts where it is hard to discern if Richard and Door are above or below ground, but it’s not a deal breaker by any means.
I would wager that American Gods is a stronger overall piece by Neil Gaiman, but I still enjoyed Neverwhere very much. The original world of the story is a delight in a genre filled with cookie cutter kingdoms and plot lines and I have always appreciated Gaiman’s tongue and cheek approach to story telling. The book might be a tad too long, but if you consider yourself a fantasy buff, Neverwhere will certainly be an pleasant change in pace from the cookie cutter kingdoms and dragons.