by Neil Gaiman
Having recently visited London, the world Gaiman has created beneath it is fascinating. Closed Tube stations join the mystical world of London Below to London Above. The Market, a neutral place in the fiercely divided London Below, takes place at an empty Harrod’s one time. Bits and pieces of London Above that have slipped through the cracks come to rest in London Below. There are some things I wish he would have realized more–there’s a scene where Door panics when she realizes she’s in the home of one of The Seven Sisters, but after a brief reassurance, we don’t learn anything more about them. While they figure in the history of one character, Hunter, it’s only implied. The novel could have worked with or without the two brief references to the Seven Sisters. It also feels a bit limited compared to the epic scope of American Gods, but it is Gaiman’s first novel.
Richard is astoundingly normal, with very good intentions–I may or may not have pictured him as David Tennant. Watching him try to comprehend London Below is quite interesting–he misunderstands things, almost refuses to believe some things, and eventually accepts it all. He’s charmingly normal, the sort of character required in any work that involves the real world juxtaposed with a fantastical one. Richard’s point of view about London Below is wonderful–he laughs at his first friend in London Below, Anesthesia, because she’s scared of “Knightsbridge”… only to find that it’s really “Night’s Bridge”, a bridge of total darkness that forces you to live through nightmares to get to the other side.
I like Door, but I don’t love her. I think I may have a knee jerk response to multicolored eyes. She comes off as a bit too quirky occasionally, which is a bit of a weird thing to find distasteful about a fantasy character. She demands Richard apologize to a rat without telling him why, and she often doesn’t tell him what’s what–like when she panics about the Seven Sisters. And, after a entire novel dressed in luxurious rags, she changes into different rags at the end–even though she’s a daughter of an important House. Still, she’s likable and important, although she seems a bit twee at times. I’m a bit more interested in her murdered family, who are all wonderfully named–since her entire family has the specific power of opening doors to anywhere, her parents’ names are Portico and Portia.
The supporting cast is wonderful. The Marquis de Carabas, an extremely untrustworthy character Door has to trust, is a great character, pocketing Door’s father’s beloved trinkets as she searches for his journal. He arranges things, gathers favors, pulls off a magnificent stunt to get information, and does it all with a certain panache. Hunter, a legendary bodyguard and hunter, also joins the group, an efficient, powerful, and mysterious woman, whom Richard first mistakes for a hooker. Watching her fight is wonderful–watching her refuse to accompany Door and Richard to London Above is even better. The two assassins after Door, who answer to a mysterious employer, are delightfully cruel. One, Mr. Croup, is a great lover of words, while the other, Mr. Vandemar, is constantly hungry, devouring pigeons and rodents as he sees fit.
The plot is intriguing–when you find out who the villain is, you’re both horrified and impressed. The pace is brisk and insidious, and it’s wonderful at creating suspense. You can almost feel Gaiman cackling behind the scenes, making the reader wait for the information they desperately want. The various trials and tribulations are just so original, such as the trials the Black Friars’ make the group go through, especially Richard’s. The end is wonderfully triumphant.
Still, it lacks the scope of Gaiman’s further works–Hunter does make references to the Belows of a handful of cities, but London Below feels a bit closed off. It’s impressive as a debut novel, but reading this after American Gods makes it feel a bit small. It’s a wonderful primer to the world of Gaiman, and definitely the sort of novel to help a teenage reader get into better territory.
Bottom line: A great introduction to the wonderful world of Neil Gaiman, Neverwhere is fascinating and intriguing, although it doesn’t quite stand up to Gaiman’s later works. If you’ve never read Gaiman, read this before you move onto his other novels.
I rented this book from the public library.