The first novel Neil Gaiman wrote after gaining his reputation as a comic book writer was Neverwhere, a stand alone story based on the BBC mini series Gaiman worked on. (Having seen the mini series before, I was amazed at just how similar the book and mini series were.) As is to be expected from anything by Gaiman, Neverwhere is an enchanting tale, strange and a little crazy. If almost anyone else had attempted this story, it would probably be somewhat silly. Yet somehow, whenever Gaiman writes something, he pulls everything together in such a way that it works really well.
Richard Mayhew is an ordinary London citizen with a decent but dull job and a pretty but snooty fiancee named Jessica (NOT Jess!). On the way to an important dinner with his Jessica’s boss, Richard and Jessica find a young woman lying on the sidewalk, hurt and bleeding. To Jessica’s great chagrin, Richard insists on helping the girl even if it means missing the dinner and losing Jessica. Richard brings the woman, who is called Door, back to his apartment and cleans her up.
Once Door has returned to her home, Richard finds that he no longer seems to exist. He can’t hail a cab, his coworkers ignore him, Jessica can’t even remember his last name, and his landlord doesn’t even notice him bathing when he shows some potential tenants every room in Richard’s apartment. Convinced Door has something to do with this occurrence, Richard decides to find her and becomes introduced to the London Underground – people who have “slipped through the cracks” of London – and is caught up in finding out why the rest of Door’s family was killed.
The world of the London Underground is unusual and fascinating, and while it coexists with our world, it is very different. This world has many common fantasy elements – some magic, unusual creatures, and assassins yet it is also unlike standard fantasy. It is not at all the typical tale of a modern day person who is whisked to a magical land full of castles, beautiful princesses, and fairies where they may have to work on the side of good to defeat an evil dark lord. Many of the people are the homeless of London, and the “lords and ladies” are not well dressed or at all refined. There are residents who speak with and revere rats and sewer folk who collect rubbish from their smelly home. It’s not a lovely and pleasant place, which makes it more realistic and gives it a sort of charm.
The story is paced very well without a boring moment. It is a fairly short, very plot-oriented story with sparse descriptions and a lot of dark, whimsical humor. I particularly enjoyed how Gaiman twisted the standard quest story, but unfortunately I cannot go into much detail about that without giving too much away.
The characters themselves are not explored in depth, but sometimes “good” and “bad” were not as apparent as one might have expected. The people of the London Underground certainly helped bring the story alive.
I would recommend Neverwhere to those who enjoy entertaining, well told mythical adventures.