During the past month I’ve been participating in a groupread of “Neverwhere” by Neil Gaiman. This is a brief spoiler-free review for those of you who are curious about the book and haven’t read it. For a more in-depth discussion, see:
“Neverwhere” is an urban fantasy novel by Neil Gaiman. It tells the story of Richard, an average man in a dysfunctional relationship with his overbearing girlfriend. One day, Richard stumbles upon a bleeding girl lying upon a sidewalk. His decision to help her is life changing, as he finds himself sucked into the nightmarish wonderland of London Below. London Below is inhabited by those individuals who fell through the cracks of society (and reality itself), and once Richard begins to see its denizens, he becomes invisible to people in the world above. He follows the girl whom he rescued, whose name is Door, in the hopes of finding his way home, only to discover that Door’s life is threatened by the same people who murdered her family.
…and the villains! Croup and Vandemar are a pair of bumbling but humorous mercenary bad guys who enjoy their job far too much. You can’t hate them, because it’s very hard to take one’s villains seriously when they’re trying to talk with a mouth full of toads.
The atmosphere of London Below is one of the biggest strengths of this book. Gaiman draws on both the mundane and the absurd to create a world that is simultaneously beautiful and menacing.
One of the weaknesses of “Neverwhere” is the general lack of character development throughout the novel. Most of the characters don’t change, but Richard’s perspective on them does, so I’ll forgive it. Most of the characters in London Below are unabashedly themselves. Characters represent different archetypes and seem to have come out of a fairy tale, but one of the overreaching themes of the novel is that life isn’t always what it seems and that there is more to people than meets the eye. The minor characters are extremely memorable, such as the Amazonian woman named Hunter who is searching for a fabled Beast or the Old Bailey who talks to birds and trades in favors.
Overall, I’d highly recommend this book. It reminds me of a darker version of Alice in Wonderland, but in a more modern setting complete with subway rats, floating markets, and plenty of hidden dangers. Even though the book has some flaws, the story is enjoyable and imaginative.
I read this book as part of the Once Upon a Time Challenge.