13 of 15 people found the following review helpful
This review is from: Neverwhere (Paperback)
Richard Mayhew, a quiet, rather mundane man, finds an injured young woman on a London street. She's reluctant to be helped, but he seeks to restore her to health anyway. The appearance of two mysterious men seeking her brings an immediate tension, little helped by the woman's apparent disappearance. When she re-emerges from wherever she'd hidden, it begins a string of amazing adventures. The young woman, "Door" seems to possess bizarre powers as she leads Richard into a new, wholly unanticipated realm - below the city's streets.
Although Door is on a quest that would place Richard, and herself, in grave danger, she leads him through this bizarre society. She's young, vulnerable and clearly frightened. It doesn't matter that she's from a respected family. They have all been slaughtered and Door's protectors are few. They aren't always effective, either. As a newcomer to this world, Richard is not placed to act as the fantasy hero. Gaiman paints him admirably, a terrified city man who yet manages the flash of courage and insight. More importantly, Richard Mayhew cares, and the novelty of that feeling in this environment proves strangely beneficial.
Gaiman's prose gifts, combined with a vivid imagination, have produced a sterling example of "modern" fantasy. What does lie below the congested streets of Britain's capital? Gaiman proposes a mix of ancient spirits and semi-human beings who have formed societies, alliances, meeting places and residences. There are those who communicate with the rats, a major population segment, as expected. The author creates an amazing melange of figures, including, even at these depths, an angel. Among the most important aspect of this realm is the Floating Market. Never fixed in time or place, the Market provides a location for exchanges of services as well as goods. The bustle and chaos of any large bazaar are present, as is an element of peace. When the Market is running, there is the Market Truce, protecting the innocent and malign alike. With many of Gaiman's characters bent on exterminating their fellows for a wide variety of reasons, this haven is essential.
This complex tale mixes elements of ancient legend, modern business dealings and some innovative aspects. The combination keeps the reader's attention firmly captured as you are led through a string of the unexpected. Friends betray and enemies become allies - before shifting back again. The true hero is a woman - a self-appointed guardian who expects no reward but acknowledgement of duty properly exercised. This is a fantasy land, but the telephone becomes a significant element. There is a background manipulator of events who remains enigmatic to the end. With all these aspects carefully depicted and developed, Neverwhere will remain a major work in the fantasy genre, while sustaining its unique qualities. [stephen a. haines - Ottawa, Canada]