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Sunday, January 20, 2013

Review: Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman


NeverwhereNeverwhere by Neil Gaiman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I don't know why it took me so long to get around to reading it. You'd think there was reason to dread it, with how I kept putting it off, and rereading other Gaiman works before cracking this one open. In the end, it took a library audio edition, read by the author, to get me over my reluctance, and thank goodness.

Neverwhere is an urban fantasy in the Borderlands mold. It shows a world beneath our own (literally—the distinctions are London Above and London Below), one our surface-dwelling perspective character, Richard Mayhew, has difficulty adjusting to. It's through Richard we learn the rules of the underground, and he asks all the questions the reader might have. All Richard wants is to go home to a world he understands, and where he's safe and warm and comfortable, and where no one's trying to kill him.

He's dragged into this world by a young woman named Door, who has the ability to open portals locked to anyone else. Her entire family was just killed by two creepy assassins who call one another Mr. Croup and Mr. Vandemar, and they're after her when Richard finds her and helps her. She's on a mission to find the angel, Islington, to find out what happened to her family and avenge them.

Door recruits help in the form of the Marquis de Carabas, whose power derives from swapping favors, and who Richard mistrusts, with good reason. Door hires Hunter as a bodyguard from the Floating Market, where she proves she's the strongest fighter in London Below. But, she's unable to go to London Above, and of course Door's quest sends her back to that world.

The book does an excellent job both of capturing the romanticism and otherworldliness of a fantasy realm tucked in right beneath our own, and of showing the grit and pain and fear of being on this kind of quest. Richard's desire to return to London Above makes perfect sense. London Below is filthy, dangerous, cold, chaotic, and utterly unpredictable.

The book is transcribed from a BBC miniseries, which I saw before I read the book. It fleshes out a lot of the story, and explains parts in the miniseries that had confused me. It also expands the ending by a couple of chapters, and gives a lot more insight into Richard.

Overall, I found it an enjoyable story. It reminded me a lot of Charles de Lint's Newford stories, though a bit grittier.

I highly recommend the audio edition. Neil Gaiman is an excellent reader, and it added to my enjoyment of the story to hear him reading it. He integrates the actors' mannerisms from the BBC miniseries into the dialogue, which really distinguishes each character nicely.


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