on 5 May 2014
I was torn between giving this a four or a five. Thanks to a few niggles that I'll come to later, I eventually settled on four, but I can't emphasise enough that this is a really entertaining book and if you like Gaiman's work or are a general fan of fantasy, you should definitely give it a go. I read it more or less in one long sitting (large parts of it, ironically, on an hour long tube journey) and the plot really propels the reader along.
My favourite thing about the book was the writing style, which is unusual for me, as I tend to be much more interested in the plot. But how could I not love gems like:
"he had made a point of telling each of them that he liked to kill things, and he was good at it; and this amused Mr Crup and Mr Vanemar, much as Genghis Khan might have been amused by the swagger of a young Mongol who had recently pillaged his first village or burnt his first yurt."
"A table for tonight was impossible: if the Pope, the Prime Minister and the President of France arrived this evening without a confirmed reservation, even they would be turned out into the street with a continental jeer."
Lines like these reminded me of Pratchett, which isn't surprising considering the two of them wrote Good Omens together.
I also liked the main character. Richard is a mild-mannered Scot, who's fairly out of his depth in London with his overbearing girlfriend, and even more out of his depth in the fantastical London Below, with various people out to kill him. From the moment he helps what appears to be a young injured homeless woman (but who turns out to be much more) it's clear that's he's basically a lovely guy - something far too rare in fiction. He also acts broadly realistically when confronted by the terrifying and unbelievable. He doesn't suddenly become ultra-heroic, neither does he run away. He carries on being broadly decent, while still being horribly confused and scared, and ends up doing some heroic things in the process.
The other characters left me in two minds. They were almost cartoonish - sadistic killers, charming but unscrupulous cad, deadly huntress, cruel seductress. Now, I know full well that Gaiman can write gloriously subtle, nuanced characters, so this degree of near one-dimensional characterisation has to have been deliberate. And part of me really enjoyed it - who doesn't enjoy a truly evil villain, after all? But another part felt like I couldn't quite connect with them or care that much about them. I sympathised with Door, the female lead, but I didn't feel that I even really got to know her.
The plot was undoubtedly original, hinging on the existence of a parallel London that lurks beneath our own - a world of both fantasy figures named after famous London landmarks and tube stations (or maybe the stations were named after them) and people who have fallen through the cracks of society through homelessness or similar misfortune. It was a great premise, and the author undoubtedly had some fun with it. The author's introduction claimed that he wanted to create an adult version of Narnia, and to a large extent, I think he succeeded. I'll henceforth look at empty, darkened tube trains with all the excitement I used to muster for looking for secret doors in wardrobes (seriously, I used to do that worryingly regularly!)
I did, however, get the feeling that slightly more could have been done with it. The plot felt somewhat episodic and surreal. I enjoyed the story, I really did, but I sometimes felt that we were bouncing from one strange happening to the next with no rhyme or reason. More than the full blown fantastical stuff, I enjoyed the bits that played with the boundaries between fantasy and reality, for example when Richard started to be forgotten by everyone in London Above, or when the characters attended an art exhibition and his old and new life collided.
For all that it was supposed to very much be about London, apart from the names, I almost felt it could have taken place in any city. American Gods felt firmly routed in various parts of America, and this just didn't quite have that sense of time and place. More adventures in defined and unique geographical locations would have helped, but more importantly, I'd like to have seen the plot and the characters be linked into London legends and folklore and history. One obvious example - Old Bailey is a man who lives on roofs and both eats and befriends birds. I couldn't help thinking it would have been better if he had been a personification of the statue of Blind Justice that actually sits on top of the Old Bailey court. As it was, he had the name of a London landmark with no obvious connection to it, and the same could be said for other characters, such as Serpentine. The ones that worked best where probably the Black Friars, who seemed to have both some resemblance to the historical order that gave that station it's name, an interesting extra dose of magic, and some relevance to the plot.
I got the impression that there were huge amounts of detail of London Below history and tradition that lurked in the author's head and never made it into the book. I'd have liked to know more about who the Seven Sisters were, what the deal was with the magic spear, who the Barons are that people supposedly all owe fealty too (must be something to do with Barons Court I suppose). There's some fun in knowing there's a world beyond what's spelt out on the pages, but a little more detail would have helped me to truly love this book rather than merely enjoy it.
on 16 August 2015
Chose this book because it reminded me of a tv programme I watched and enjoyed years ago and guess what it was the same but an updated version of the programme/book. Brilliant story and descriptions. You can just see the characters and places described. Brilliant use of words. Glad I purchased on my kindle as I have a dictionary and some of them I needed to check up on and its easier than getting a dictionary out. Enjoyed the extra end bits as well. You can't read this story fast because of how its written, if you did you would loose some of the descriptive narratives. Well worth reading.story
on 17 February 2004
Neil Gaiman's main character in this book is Richard Mayhew: a bright young man, a Scot living in London for the past 3 years, in securities, a pleasant personality and content to be dominated by his bossy and ambitious girlfriend, Jessica, who recognises his potential. His life is unexciting at this point and consists mainly of working, trailing around museums and art galleries after Jessica and doing as he's told. Then one night, in the midst of obeying Jessica, they encounter a girl - a young woman bleeding on the pavement. Richard's a good chap and goes to help her. Jessica is mortified at the idea of Richard making her late and dirtying his suit to help the poor muck encrusted girl. Richard disobediently picks her up and takes her home. Jessica dis-engages him. His adventure begins.
The girl, Door is her name, is a denizen of London Below: a vast city and a different world, where time is different to London Above, there are extraordinary people with special magical skills, people who can talk to rats and birds, ancient, legendary individuals and societies, mythical creatures, an angel, demon-types, vampire-types, darkness with a will. The world is tribal, feudal and competitive. Rivalries can be deadly. The rivalries are put aside on market days. The floating market congeals in different locations. Nobody knows who decides where, but the news of a market is passed from person to person and hordes of buyers and sellers arrive at the appointed time and place. Richard is plunged into this world. He is no longer properly visible to the people of London Above, indicating that he has fallen through the cracks and is now part of London Below. Door is in terrible danger, pursued by the monsters that slaughtered her family. She doesn't know why. She has many friends and she's highly respected in the world below. Richard joins the small group assisting Door in her quest to discover the truth and avenge her family. Richard has to change, grow, focus, toughen up and generally adapt to this hard, dangerous and disturbingly interesting environment.
It's a gripping and imaginative plot. Some of the characters are not very plausible but that didn't spoil my enjoyment of the story, once having committed myself to total suspension of disbelief. Anyone who likes fantasy will be likely to enjoy this.
on 3 March 2003
Neil Gaiman uses London as the backdrop of a tale about an average business man who has to escape from the underside, an alternate London made up of sewers, tube stations and doors that lead into strange and dangerous places. Gaiman adds believability to this strange tale by describing real London locations and even Harrods gets a mention. You really feel Gaiman loves talking about London, and you can picture the events in the novel unfold within the dark alley ways, damp sewers, and eerie tube stations of London.
Gaiman's other strength is the way he introduces the grotesque yet majestic characters. You feel he really loves the characters he writes about and none of them are ignored as characters that appear briefly in the novel still remain in the readers mind.
The novel is quite a dark novel but it is written with some wit especially when we see Richard Mayhew's view point as he struggles to come to terms with the new world he has entered and his dilemma of trying to escape, but inevitably secures emotional relationships with the characters he meets and at times there are many tender moments that touches the reader emotionally.
The novel is a triumph of fantasy. It's the sort of novel that introduces strange sets of circumstances that makes the reader feel like the main character Richard lost and somewhat confused, but then with each page the puzzle is revealed, and it's how Gaiman leads the reader through this wonderful world that is the novels biggest achievement.
on 1 May 2009
This is the first book by Neil Gaiman I read. I skipped through it in the bookshop and on almost every page there were signs of a remarkable imagination at work. It looked compelling. It wasn't long after I started reading it, though, that I began to feel disappointed. I was disappointed because many of the ideas and images never get fully realised or developed. Some of the major scenes including the final climax are hurried through as though the author were already bored with them; others roused my interest and curiosity but were soon abandoned and played no further role in the narrative. Maybe the episodic quality of the writing has something to do with the fact that Neverwhere was originally written as a BBC series. If so, it's a real shame since the book has so much potential.
Having said all that, many of the ideas and most of the characters are intriguing and brilliantly imagined. Croup and Vandemar are superbly drawn. The world of London Below is a fascinating creation. In short, 'Neverwhere' is a great imaginative read. I'm glad I found this book and glad I read it even though it left me frustrated. I will certainly want to read something else by Gaiman.
But then I had to decide how many stars to give it and that was really difficult. For sheer imaginative power and the ability to create memorable images in the mind, Neverwhere deserves five stars - no question. But because of the book's episodic quality, the hurried final climax and the frequent lack of development I reluctantly gave it just two.
I'd say this though, if you like good imaginative writing, don't let this put you off. If you want a novel to have pace, energy and development then you may have to put up with being a little frustrated now and then, but there is still a great deal to enjoy here. What Neverwhere lacks in sustained energy and solid construction it makes up for many times over in vividness and sheer imaginative power.
It's flawed but quite brilliant.
on 14 February 2006
This book is about another world that lives beneath the London that we know - London Under, which is an out of kilter, time warpish setting. The characters are amazing - Richard who falls through the crack of London Above, Old Bailey, the Black Friars, the Seven Sisters and Angel Islington. Gaiman has been amazingly clever by literally bringing tube stations to life and making them into real characters. The reader gets to learn about sealed off tube stations (that I never knew existed), and the true reason for 'minding the gap'- I will always give that a huge berth from now on - and will never be able to travel on the tube again without looking over my shoulder or looking out for ghost stations. I would call this a brilliant fantasy thriller that is full of humerous moments, along with quite toe-curling horrific scenes. Oh, and if, like me, when you finish the book you feel the need to know more about the sealed tube stations, there are several interesting sites to be found on google.
on 24 January 2015
There were probably books about fantasy world with a modern city background before, but this one marks the vanguard of the modern urban fantasy genre as it exists now.
There is a simple concept behind it - that the places in London are based on real places and individuals - so the Angel Islington is an actual Angel.
Had a fondness for the TV series which led me to this book, although I'm sure it had been criticized for the wobbly sets and Doctor Who style thespian acting.
Always liked the concept that people cannot quite see the homeless characters; that is why people do not notice them, rather than not wanting to acknowledge that someone on the street is in a desperate place because you cannot or will not do anything about it.
on 24 December 2013
Neverwhere was the TV series that first introduced me to Neil Gaiman. I remember stumbling across the TV series 5 minutes after it started and from that moment I was hooked.
As soon as I knew there was a Neverwhere book I rushed down to the local (now sadly shut down many years ago) bookshop to buy it. I wondered if this kindle version would live up to my memories of the days when I was younger and possibly more innocent.
Would I still love everything about it? The answer is a definite YES! This book is so much better than I remember. Although the TV series still plays in my head as I read....saying lines that were never said on TV, this book is so much better than the TV series.
You always got to love a man who plays with Plastic Trolls and Richard, Richard Mayhew, Dick is no exception. He is so the sort of man I want to marry.
Although I have watched the TV series and read the book ... I still read this version on the edge of my seat (and not just because the cat was pushing me off).
Vandemar and Croup seem even meaner and yet ever so slightly true to life. There is something so beautifully sinister about these two `brothers,' that make you smile. I often wonder what their mother (s) thought of them.
Anaesthesia is a character I would love to get to know better . . .Neil Gaiman if you are reading this please can we have a sequel or prequel based on her. She is the silent one who speaks to millions, the hero that never gets the credit she deserved. She battles so hard to be cast aside. She needs her own book.
Door's family, although dead, seem fascinating and again it would be great to get to know them more. They seem to be family filled with love.
This book makes you wonder what happens to the people who vanish. What is madness and what is reality. Maybe our own reality is the only thing that ever can be true?
on 16 November 2014
Richard Mayhew is an upwardly mobile young Man, just getting started in life, having moved from Scotland to London to begin his business career. It's all going in a predictable direction. Then, suddenly, following a chance encounter, with a rather ragged damsel in distress, his life is translated overnight from the London of the here and now, to the London below, which is sometimes then and there and sometimes not. A bizarre quest follows.
We meet an outlandish array of strange and dangerous characters and creatures; the products of a rich imagination which unfurls in the discovery of this densely populated and incredibly detailed, grim but stimulating alternative world.
It's dark, satisfying fantasy. It's different and truly engrossing. I'll never look at a rat in the same way again! Said enough! Just read it.
on 11 September 2014
I remembered this being one of my favourite Gaiman's books but I enjoyed re-reading it even more than the memory of it. American Gods is still my favourite book of his but Neverwhere is a close second. It's an imaginative dark fantasy and I love the world of London below and the fantastical connections with the famous landmarks of London.
The story is a basic quest but it's the characters and the setting that elevates it. I liked the two assassins most of all - there's some twisted humour in their conversations. The central character provides a nice juxtaposition from the weirdness going on around him.
Story is king and that is as it should be. However Gaiman's prose in places is a joy to read. If you're a Gaiman fan then you've probably already read this - if you haven't then you're in for a treat. If you're new to his work then this is an excellent place to start.