Monday, July 30, 2007

Neverwhere - Review

Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman

A quick summary stolen from back cover: 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...

How I'd sum it up to another reader: Well, it's Gaiman's first published novel, a work that he crafted from an urban fantasy television series of the same name. It begins with a rather passive man, Richard, finding a wounded girl, Door, on the side of the street one evening in London. By helping her, his existence vanishes faster than he could blink. Soon, he's on a quest to help the young girl understand why her entire family was murdered and to get his life back. Bad guys pursue him, and some even pretend to be his allies. It's a quick and speedy journey through a world not that much different from the London above, but filled with strange characters and even stranger rituals.

The cover sez and shows: London, Above and Below. Both look pretty grim and would never fly in a vacation pamphlet. Hey, kids! Pack your black eyeliner and skulls! We're going to London! Yay!!!!!1!!!!1!

Number of dragons, wizards, and reluctant farmer boys: Zero, but there is an angel and some rat-speakers. Can't be too picky, y'know.

Hardest name to pronounce in my head: Islington, but not really.

Best part: Croup and Vandemar. They are seemingly demonic assassins out after Door, but are now pursuing anyone that gets in their way. Mr. Croup is the more well-spoken of the two, often going the extra length to sound pompous rather than intimidating. Mr. Vandermar on the other hand...well, he's a bit simple-minded. Likes to hurt people. As a team, these two work well off of each other and end up stealing a lot of scenes away from Richard for themselves. Fun, creepy villains that make your skin crawl. Perfect. Because, honestly? Gaiman never really made me care for the "heroes" of Neverwhere (i.e., Richard and Door), but the villains are just so captivating that I am drawn to them immediately.

Worst part: The book is most certainly character-driven. The plot is straightforward, with zero veering. I was hoping for something a little more complex rather than "we are here, we need to get there, let's follow this path" sort of thing. I was also hoping for more stylistic prose, much like in American Gods, but I found the text to be very lacking. Very basic, very bare.

Random thoughts and theories: First, a disclaimer. I've never been to London and so I probably missed a lot of little neat things that Gaiman did with his underground world. I loved how a lot of the landmarks actually became people. Such as The Angel, Islington turning out to be an actual angel surviving in the sewers of London Below. And the Floating Market is a cool trick that, for the life of me, I can't seem to remember where the idea of such a thing first took hold of me. It felt really familiar to read. Or maybe I've played too many roleplaying games.

If said book were a ride at a Disney theme park: You know what? I haven't the faintest idea.

If in school its grade would be: B+

Come on, write us a haiku:
Watch for doors tha' open
Worlds below and beyond us
Where the rat-folk walk

Overall, y'all: It's a fun read, but by no means anything superb. Lots of action though Richard does little himself until the very end. Kind of a coming-of-age tale except Richard is all grown up already. Still, a wonderful cast of characters that'll keep you guessing about whether they are on Door's side, Croup and Vandemar's side, or something completely their own. The plot unfolds like a fairy tale: utterly predictable. Villains are villains, and good guys are wholesome. However, it is an entertaining journey into a Gothic-heavy London underground that will keep readers flipping pages. And for fans of Gaiman's The Sandman, there's plenty of dark wit floating around in these characters' heads. Enjoy, I say.

Books I might or might not compare to: King Rat by China MiƩville, Un Lun Dun by China MiƩville, and The Night Watch by Sergei Lukyanenko

Some linkage: The Very Small but Quite Significant Neverwhere Page and Neverwear clothing line

1 comment:

michael said...

Paul,
My wife and I read to each other, and one summer about 5 years ago this was one of the books we chose. Brilliant read aloud.
And yes, I have spent some time in London, and the landmarks are very sly.
Other books where the language was clearly spoken first by the author, then written down would be LotR, of course (took us six months to read aloud) and any of the O'Brian Aubrey/Maturin series, most good for a month to six weeks of reading.