Thursday, 14 July 2016

Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman

review by Maryom

Even before he moved to London, Richard Mayhew was warned that he would have a long way to travel, and that his journey would start with doors ...
For three years Richard's life has been uneventful. He has a steady office job, a steady girlfriend, and plans to settle down and marry, but things are about to change dramatically through an act of kindness. On his way out to dinner one evening, he stops to help an injured girl lying on the pavement, and takes her back to his flat. He assumed the only consequences would be irritating his fiancee, but matters are far more serious than that. For the girl is named Door (due to her ability to find and open them), she's the only surviving member of her family, the same assassins who murdered them are now pursuing her, and, most importantly, she comes from London Below, a shady world that exists beneath and between the streets and buildings of the capital. Some people are born there, some fall between the cracks of the 'real' world and end up there, some, like Richard, encounter its citizens and find themselves trapped between the two worlds. Having helped Door once, he finds he must help again if only to find a way to get home, and, like Alice falling down the rabbit hole, Richard is off on an adventure in a world that's familiar but wonderfully weird.

No book lover can be entirely unaware of Neil Gaiman but somehow although I'd read many of his short stories and a novel or two, I'd not quite appreciated the full breadth of his writing. Since reading The Ocean at the End of the Lane, all that has changed and I can't get enough!

Reading Neverwhere is like being taken back to childhood, to great fantasy adventures such as The Weirdstone of Brisingamen, which bridge the gap between our everyday world and a hidden fantastical one, but told here in a way to appeal to adults and older teens.

So what specifically is to love about Neverwhere?

Well, first and foremost that parallel world of London Below hidden behind an overlooked doorway, or in an abandoned Tube station, with a 'Floating Maket' that moves from place to place (often familiar London landmarks), a labyrinth guarded by the Beast of London and too many marvellous sights and sites to describe here.
The characters - from Richard, an innocent from London Above, trapped against his will in a world full of danger and excitement; Door, seeking to avenge the death of her family; a female bodyguard who specialises in killing off deadly monsters lurking in the tunnels and sewers beneath cities all over the world, and known only as Hunter; the Marquis de Carabas who carries his life rather differently to mere humans; to angels, temptresses, a bird-man who makes his home on roofs, and a pair of hit-men, currently hired to track down Door, and disappointed when their appetite for killing can't be assuaged. Happily though, it's an urban fantasy that manages to entertain and thrill without the inclusion of vampires!
The way Gaiman has taken familiar place-names, twisted and re-invented them with wholly different meanings - you'll never think of Earl's Court, Down Street, Shepherd's Bush or The Angel, Islington in the same way again.
And ... despite a lot of the story taking place underground, I never once felt claustrophobic!

It's a non-stop adventure, full of danger, excitement and false trails, where, as you half-expect, friends can be disguised as foes, and vice versa.
I absolutely adored this, and much like Richard, didn't want to leave the World of London below, once the adventure's end was reached. Better than The Ocean at the End of the Lane? That's a hard call. I loved both, and wouldn't like to have to pick between them.

Now for a word about some 'technical' matters; this isn't the first version of Neverwhere, in fact several previous editions have appeared - first it was a TV mini series of 1996, then there was a tie-in book, followed by a US edition which explained all those quirky British things that might be meaningless to any foreign reader. This new version brings the best bits of all these together, adds some wonderful,atmospheric illustrations by Chris Riddell, a Q+A with the author and a short story How The Marquis Got His Coat Back set in the same world of London Below to make a gorgeous collectors' edition, a special present for a die-hard Gaiman fan, or just a wonderful 'introduction' for a newcomer like me.

Maryom's review - 5 stars 
Publisher - 
Genre - Adult/YA urban fantasy

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