Neverwhere, by Neil Gaiman

neverwhere-by-neil-gaiman coverGenre: Modern/Urban Fantasy
Publisher: Morrow William and Co
Published: 1997
Reviewer Rating: four stars
Book Review by William D. Gagliani

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I decided to revisit this novel as a Classic Return when I saw the adulation Gaiman fans have for their hero. At April’s World Horror Convention, I had the pleasure of signing a few copies of ROBERT BLOCH’S PSYCHOS while Neil accommodated hundreds of fans just a few yards away. Despite the length of his line, Neil smiled at everyone and stayed until the crowds were sated. He is a charming man who sets a great example for his fellow writers.

In Neverwhere, the creator of THE SANDMAN (author of the Bram Stoker Award-winning novel AMERICAN GODS, and all-around Renaissance man), mines a vein more often exploited by such experts as Tim Powers, James Blaylock, and Lisa Goldstein. The good news is that he produces a more than credible effort. Based on his BBC series by the same name, this is the story of Richard Mayhew, who stumbles upon a young woman bleeding on a London sidewalk and dares to stop and help her (to the great dismay of his oh-so-proper fiancee). Of course, wild adventure tinged with horror ensues from this selfless act.

Shortly thereafter, Richard suddenly finds himself a nonentity in his own world — ignored by friends and strangers alike, jobless, penniless, and almost without hope. Indeed, his only hope is to find Door, the girl he helped, who has since disappeared. It seems she’s being hunted by a pair of wonderfully sadistic, nasty old (and I mean old) assassins, Mister Croup and Mister Vandemar. Door is a denizen of London Below, where people who have “fallen between the cracks” end up. Richard has no choice but to follow, because only the Lady Door can help him regain his status as a resident of London Above. But before anyone can help him, he is drawn into a quest to travel from one side of London to the other, using the subway and its colorful stops (Gaiman’s secret subway platforms predate Rowling’s) as no one from London Above can experience or even imagine.

Gaiman’s inventiveness in designing this alternate, subterranean London involves a barrage of literary references, in-jokes, and puns — and yet tells a compelling (if occasionally familiar) story, as Richard and Door, along with the marquis de Carabas and their Amazon bodyguard, Hunter, traverse the underworld from danger to danger. Fortunately, here the rats are on their side! It’s a grand old quest for Richard and his oddly assorted companions, and it makes an exciting adult fairy tale with perhaps only a bit of flatness in the ending to complain about. Neil Gaiman’s well-developed sense of the bizarre, the absurd, the comic and the grotesque assures that his work will always entertain. His is a welcome new voice in the literary space that lies between steampunk, urban fantasy, and magical realism.

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