Author: Neil Gaiman
The story of Neverwhere, a dark urban fantasy, follows Richard Mayhew who discovers a dark and fantastical world of London Below, a hidden realm beneath the familiar London streets. It all starts when he finds a young woman called Door bleeding on the street and chooses to help her at the cost of turning his life upside down. Door is on a quest to find answers and justice for the murder of her family and Richard is thrust in the middle of it all when he is unable to go back home to his ordinary life because he does not exist in London Above anymore.
Mostly a fast paced read, it does have slower moments hence can feel unevenly paced to some readers. For readers familiar with fantasy tropes the plot can also feel a bit formulaic and simplistic.
“Richard wrote a diary entry in his head.
Dear Diary, he began. On Friday I had a job, a fiancée, a home, and a life that made sense. (Well, as much as any life makes sense). Then I found an injured girl bleeding on the pavement, and I tried to be a Good Samaritan. Now I’ve got no fiancée, no home, no job, and I’m walking around a couple of hundred feet under the streets of London with the projected life expectancy of a suicidal fruitfly.”Neil Gaiman, Neverwhere
London Below offers an exploration of the underbelly of society, of the people who fall through the cracks, overlooked and forgotten. It offers us a vivid view of the harshness of the life of those living in poverty and hardship. Richard is one such forgotten individual who falls through the crack, but through his journey he is transformed in his perspective and identity. He transforms from an oridinary man living a mundane life to a hero with self-confidence.
The themes of friendship and loyalty take center as the relationships between Richard and those he meets develop, particularly between him and Door. Their bond grows stronger as they face challenges together and help each other get to their goals.
The characers are wonderfully varied. Richard, the ordinary man thrust into a quest of self-discovery. Door, the Lady in distress who persists in her objective to find justice while constantly being hunted. The charming and cunning Marquis de Carabas. The menacing duo of Mr. Croup and Mr. Vandermar. Among many other colorful minor characters. They each have unique voices, motivations and quirks that make them compelling. The dialogues between characters are sharp, witty and often laced with humor, enhancing character interaction and dynamics.
While the characters are diverse and distinct, they were somewhat lacking in depth and development. For example, The protagonist, Richard, is on a journey of self-discovery, realization and does have moments of heroism. But he can sometimes appear to be a passive character to whom things happen to, than a proactive hero who drives the plot.
Mr Croup and Mr. Vandermar were vividly terrying villains (horrifyingly nihilistic, in fact!) but a deeper exploration of their motivations and backgrounds could have added more sophistication to their roles in the story. Same for the mystery villain behind these two, whom I won’t mention to avoid spoilers.
Writing and Style
Neil Gaiman’s strength lie in creating vividly imaginative worlds and characters. This allows readers a truly immersive experience of adventures in weird and wonderful worlds of fantasy. This book is no different in this aspect! It is wonderfully imaginative with vivid details and metaphors to please as well as horrify the senses! For instance, the Floating Market is a wonderfully imagined place where London Below Londoners barter for all kinds of junk and magical items.
“Rubbish!” screamed a fat, elderly woman, in Richard’s ear, as he passed her malodorous stall. “Junk!” She continued. “Garbage! Trash! Offal! Debris! Come and get it! Nothing whole or undamaged! Crap, tripe, and useless piles of shit. You know you want it.”Neil Gaiman, Neverwhere
The writing is easy to read and feels authentic because of his masterful blending of the fantastical with the mundane; the fantastical world of London Below with the everyday London Above. This makes the story all the more relatable and grounded, allowing the reader to suspend disbelief and become absorbed in the story.
However, some readers may seek more understanding of the rules and intricacies of London Below, which is not fully explained.
In conclusion, Neverwhere is a must-read of Gaiman fans or any fans of urban fantasy and immersive storytelling. It is richly imaginative, has quirky characters and a thrilling adventure!
Trigger Warning: There are some gross scenes such as of the eating of rats and description of the sewers, etc. that might not be for the faint of stomach.