I’m not sure why, but Neil Gaiman has never really featured on my reading radar. I’d read Good Omens and loved it, but as a stand alone writer I’d never really had the inclination to pick up his books. I’m not sure what made me change my mind – possibly all my book blogger friends threatening to disown me if I didn’t get it read immediately, but I’m glad I did regardless.
Under the streets of London there’s a world most people could never even dream of. A city of monsters and saints, murderers and angels, and pale girls in black velvet. Richard Mayhew is a young businessman who is about to find out more than he bargained for about this other London. A single act of kindness catapults him out of his safe and predictable life and into a world that is at once eerily familiar and yet utterly bizarre. There’s a girl named Door, an Angel called Islington, an Earl who holds Court on the carriage of a Tube train, a Beast in a labyrinth, and dangers and delights beyond imagining … And Richard, who only wants to go home, is to find a strange destiny waiting for him below the streets of his native city.
While I did enjoy reading Neverwhere, I can’t help but feel it’s ever-so-slightly over-rated. I’m not sure if it suffered from the weight of my too-heavy expectations or what, but I just didn’t love it. There didn’t seem to be much to set it apart from all the other urban fantasy books out there – you know, simply bouncing from clue-giver to clue-giver as an attempt to find the lost key/solve the murder of Miss Duvet/ get back to Never Never Land. I expected it to be cleverer, I think. Instead it’s just fantasy. The tone is a lot more serious than I expected; I mean, it’s still fairly light but not as funny or as acerbic as Pratchett and it’s not as deep as most fantasy books.
That said, it does have some adorable little quirks that made me smile. I loved The Market – how could I not? A secret marketplace filled will all kinds of items, both magical and mundane, all available to be traded for a biro pen or a half-eaten sandwich. It somehow embodies the entire book for me – the diversity present in these scenes is, to a lesser extent, existent throughout the whole.
There are some interesting characters kicking about in there too. Door is a favourite of mine. She can unlock any door, padlock or box just by the power of her mind. It just seemed quite unique to me – it’s not toted as ‘magic,’ it’s just one of those cool things that makes Door… well, Door.
However, the absolute best thing about this book was Richard himself. He’s nothing that special as protagonists go, but he was believable as a normal person (one of us, even) who suddenly finds that everything he thought was a myth is as real as real can be. Rats can talk, little smelly men inhabit the sewers of London, a mysterious beast terrorizes London Below… and Richard doesn’t believe it. You don’t know how refreshing that really is. I’m sick to the back teeth of urban fantasy characters that just automatically accept the newly magical world around them. I’d give Neil Gaiman an awful lot of brownie points for having Richard assume that it’s either all a giant joke, he’s dreaming or slightly insane. I know I wouldn’t just suddenly believe in a secret underground world below London, so why should a fictional character?
I actually liked the epilogue-y thing, which is rare for me. I pretty much just hate Every Epilogue Ever Written, so for there to be one that made me smile is a pretty big thing. All Richard wants throughout the book is to get back to his life. It wasn’t his fault he fell through one of the cracks and ended up in London Below, so he just wants a normal life. Without revealing the ending, there’s a tiny little part that rounds off the whole thing nicely. Seriously, it’s perfect. Not overdone, just… nice.
There’s not much I really disliked about Neverwhere. I enjoyed reading it and I would do so again, it’s just not the ultimate reading experience that I’ve had it described to me as.