By Neil Gaiman
BBC Books, 1996
Richard Mayhew is living an incredibly ordinary life as a young businessman with a beautiful but demanding fiancée. A chance encounter with a wounded girl on the street sends him down a path he never could have anticipated, into a world that most people have no idea exists. The girl’s name is Door, and she belongs in London Underground, only venturing into London Above to escape the evil that is chasing her. Because Richard helps her he finds himself irrevocably entwined in this dirty and dangerous underground world, ruled by forces he cannot comprehend. Will he be able to adapt and survive long enough to find a way to return to his old life?
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Let me preface by saying that I would not categorize myself as a fantasy reader. There have been very few exceptions to that through the years, not because I’m a literary snob, but because those kinds of completely made up worlds make me tired. With no basis in reality it seems like so much work to have to mentally manufacture so many images and understand the dynamics that surround this fabricated world and its inhabitants. I did not feel that way at all with Neverwhere. I think it was because the mystical, unfamiliar elements were tempered by the easier to imagine and comprehend characteristics of London and the sewer system beneath it that could, conceivably, contain a hidden society. I probably would not have enjoyed it as much if it had been a similar story but set on an undiscovered planet inhabited by lizard people.
I thought the story was well put together and answered most of the questions that arise as you travel through London Below. I liked the ending, when Richard has to decide if he really wants to return to his old life or if his new knowledge has changed him so that he no longer fits into that world. I especially liked the witty dialogue between the characters, and that their relationships were not cut and dry. It wasn’t clear who was an enemy and who was a friend, or who was maybe a friend just for right now. There were several twists and betrayals I didn’t see coming, especially in the last third or so of the book. I do need to give my disclaimer for a moderate amount bad language. If that is something you are sensitive to consider yourself warned.
Neverwhere was the February choice for my book club (which only consists of myself and one friend, but more on that another time). I very likely never would have picked this up for myself, but I’m glad she chose it because it turned out to be a very engrossing read, and I might even consider reading more by Neil Gaiman in the future.