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Review: Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman

Friday, March 6, 2015

Neil Gaiman

Genre: YA Urban Fantasy
Paperback: 370 Pages
Publication: October 2001 (originally July 1997)
by HarperTorch

Richard Mayhew is a plain man with a good heart - and an ordinary life that is changed forever on a day he stops to help a girl he finds bleeding on a London sidewalk. From that moment forward he is propelled into a world he never dreamed existed - a dark subculture flourishing in abandoned subway stations and sewer tunnels below the city - a world far stranger and more dangerous than the only one he has ever known... 


Even though this is barely the third of his books that I've read, I think it's safe to say that Neil Gaiman is quickly becoming one of my favorite authors. After I read and reviewed Stardust last summer, several of my friends recommended this book, but it wasn't until now that the magic hats decreed it should be reviewed.

I loved our main character. Much like Tristran from Stardust, Richard is a sweet, well-meaning guy who is just making his way along in a fairly humdrum, almost boringly normal life. It's this good Samaritan attitude that leads him to his predicament, when he decides to help the injured Lady Door. It's interesting to see how he adjusts to the changes that come about because of his encounter with Door, including how he adapts to being in the world of London Below. He also has a cool overall character arc, going from a pushover to someone who stands up for himself.

Besides Richard, the other characters held up well. The journeying group, composed of Door, the Marquis de Carabas, and Door's bodyguard Hunter, have a good group dynamic and are all portrayed well individually. As soon as Mr. Croup and Mr. Vandemar appear, you can tell that they're the villains; Gaiman portrays them as sleazy and slimy, perfect evil henchmen material. Some of the blurbs I read about this book described it as a dark, punk version of Alice in Wonderland, and it's pretty true. This is especially noticeable when looking at the Floating Market, which is exactly what it sounds like, a nightly market that moves from place to place in London. All the characters Richard and his companions encounter at the market give an idea of just how much variety there is among the denizens of London Below, much like the variety of characters Alice meets in Wonderland. Meeting these characters, as well as seeing the ebb and flow of the market, made for some great scenes.

To continue the Alice metaphor, the world Gaiman creates is loopy and off-the-wall, much like Wonderland. Again, the different people who live in London Below and the way they interact with each other at the Floating Market shows just how unusual their world is, at least when compared to the London Richard is used to. Like Alice, Richard becomes an anchor for the reader, serving as the only "normal" thing in such an unusual place. He wonders at the beginning of his journey whether or not he's going crazy, but gradually accepts the events going on around him as reality. This acceptance, to a certain extent, contributes to his character arc.

While I loved the way Gaiman created and portrayed London Below, I feel like he could've gone further into it. There are various mentions by the characters about the different tribes of London Below, including the fact that Door's father wanted to unite them into a single community. We even see some members of these tribes at the Floating Market, but we're never given a history about how such a diverse group of tribes came to be in the same place. We're only told that London Below is made of people that "fell through the cracks" of London Above, and seeing how this happened, whether through narration or dialogue, would've enriched this strange world and made it more interesting. This could also answer why there are so many different factions among London Below's denizens, as well as explain why Door's father wanted them to make peace.

I also had some trouble with the antagonists' motivation. The moment when we find out who Mr. Croup and Mr. Vandemar are working for was only presented to the audience; this made the moment when the characters found out, which happens a few chapters later, really anticlimactic. Mind you, the reveal is a twist, but it isn't as satisfying a twist than if the reader and the characters had found out at the same time. We never find out the reasoning behind this big boss's madness, and there were a few moments with him after the reveal that showed there was much more to him than what we saw at first glance. While the reveal could've been handled better and the motivation could've been developed more, the twists leading up to these were well executed. There was some context to them, but it was still shocking when they were unraveled.

I kind of have mixed feelings about the ending. It reminded me of a quote from Desire, one of the characters from Gaiman's Sandman series: "I should warn you, getting what you want and being happy are two quite different things." Richard gets what he wants, his life back in London Above, but he realizes that he isn't happy. I felt like the moments we get of him in London Above after having been in London Below go by pretty fast; a more gradual transition in the change of mind Richard has might've been better. At least Richard's final actions had context and didn't come out of nowhere, so that wasn't a problem. If anything, I was happy that this guy, who is kind of a wimp at the beginning, is now more confident and realizes that he doesn't have to live in such a dull world.

I'll admit that there are some issues with this book. I've heard that Gaiman has thought about a sequel for this book, and if that's really the case, I say he should go for it. This book introduces readers to a fascinating world that has fallen through the cracks, and more stories could provide us with a richer history of this world. Perhaps this could also provide for an opportunity to revisit the villains from this book in a prequel to see more on their motivation. But besides those issues, I genuinely enjoyed reading this book. Gaiman's prose is great, and there are humorous moments that provided some good laughs. The group dynamic is good, there are great twists, and the development of Richard throughout his journey is probably the best thing of all. Definitely check this book out.

Rating: 4 stars



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  • Brief gore
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2 comments on "Review: Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman"
  1. I'm adding this one to my to-buy list. I've read and loved several books by Neil Gaiman already and this looks just as equally amazing. Plus, you had me at Alice metaphor. Nice review :)

  2. Gaiman is one of my favorite authors and this is one of my favorite books, but it's been awhile since I've read it. Love your comparison to Alice In Wonderland, as I never picked up on that. Think it's time for a reread! Great review!

    Terri @ Alexia's

    Books and Such...


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