Everybody traveling in London by Tube, is familiar with the loudspeaker's warning "Mind the Gap", that is the space between platform and train carriage. Reading Gaiman, "gaps" take on a much more complex meaning... People can fall through the gaps/cracks, literally, not only down onto the rails but much deeper, ending up in "London Below". Richard Mayhew, a young man with nothing much happening in his life, is an unlikely Samaritan. Still, when confronted with a choice he follows his charitable instinct and assists a wounded rag girl he finds lying in the street. To save her from her apparent killers he goes on a quest and from this moment his life turns into a rollercoaster of discovery and danger.
"Neverwhere" is a brilliant yarn of life in the underbelly of the city, with shady human characters, speaking rats and special "guides". There is more than one reality for sure. In London Above, Richard and the rag girl, named appropriately "Door", can be seen but not recalled beyond the moment. The real-life maze of London underground tunnels, hidden passageways and dead ends provide the existent, yet twisted, backdrop to the story. Time and distances have no meaning. The names of tube stations acquire new relevance: the Earl resides at Earl's Court, the black Friar monks are in Blackfriars and Islington is an Angel. Following Door and her unusual companions, Richard discovers the limits of his endurance. He has to question his existence and reality. While his desire to get back to his normal life keeps him going, his chances to shake loose from the shadowy underworld increasingly appear to diminish...
The novel, which expands on Gaiman's successful tv production, is a great read, whether you know London or not (yet). His style is fluid and engaging, his characters are very much alive and moving the various layers of intrigue along at a good pace. [Friederike Knabe]
on April 11, 2002
Before he broke out full time into the world of novel writing Gaiman's reputation mostly rested on a relative handful number of comic books he had written, most notably (though not his best stuff) The Sandman series which showed his ability to toy with fantasy and myth to a near demented degree previously not expected for comic books. At best it was flat out amazing, at worst it was merely pleasant. Name recognition alone probably drove a lot of Gaiman starved Sandman fans to this book but fortunately it has much broader appeal as a contemporary fantasy. In this tale normal guy Richard Mayhew helps a stranger and winds up falling through the cracks into "London Below" a quasi-mystical world that coexists and yet can't be seen by "London Above". Now Richard, with a bizarre cast of comrades has to help the lady Door figure out how killed her family and what it all means, while dodging all sorts of unpleasantness that keeps popping up. The idea of a fantastic dark London overlapping the normal London isn't anything new (DC Comics' Hellblazer went over that concept all the time and "Midnight Nation" applies it to the entire US) but the key to a story like this is imagination which Gaiman has in spades. Every texture of the London Below feels real, and almost every page has some bizarre occurance or some off kilter social commentary disguised as fantasy coming from all sides. He has more good ideas than any man should possibly have and these ideas and his brilliant descriptions are what carry the novel, for the most part, you can read the whole thing like a travelogue and just become immersed in this strange and amazing world. The plot doesn't hold up so well and at times requires some dubious leaps of logic to connect two points together and for some reason, even though the whole story is executed brilliantly, the emotional center feels a bit hollow, most of the characters are painted with broad strokes and while I was incredibly interested in their plights, I didn't really care as deeply as I should have. Gaiman succeeds best when he's trying to darkly whimsical (most of the story), creepy (the scenes with Vandermar and Croup are sporadically effective, though the "ruthless killers who talk like Oxford graduates" has been done by everyone from Hannibal Lecter on down) or sentimental, which for the most part were the same problems with dogged the weaker Sandman stories. But his boundless imagination carries everything even through the slower moments when it just seems like one of those useless fantasy "Point A to Point B" quests and the ending is absolutely pitch-perfect, even though you suspect it's coming, watching him pull it off is definitely watching a genius at work. Gaiman fans will find this the greatest novel of all time of course (sorry, best fantasy novel is still "Little, Big", folks) others not exposed to him will find this an absolutely pleasant and quick read that immerses them in a world that if not for the danger (and hey even then) most of us wouldn't mind living in. Or at least visiting.
on December 28, 2003
In the field of Science-Fiction/Fantasy, there is no greater accomplishment than creating a unique and intriguing universe. Although well-written books, The Hobbit and Foundation are classics less for perfect prose than for the creatures, landscapes and societies they introduced. The appeal of the universe ranges outside books, though. It is why Attack of the Clones grossed millions on its opening day and why a lot of people know more about Marvel Comics than they do about any foreign country.
Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman is a pretty unmistakable attempt at creating a universe. The novel was Gaiman's first major project after finishing the acclaimed Sandman comic series (which could be described as his first universe, but is more of an amalgamation of Biblical scripture, Gaelic and other folk tales and the larger world of DC Comics). Because of Sandman's success, Gaiman is sometimes considered a new Tolkien or Asimov, but he fails to reach his potential on Neverwhere because, despite his ambition, his universe-creating powers at not at a prime.
The universe of this novel is London Below, a dark and outlandish world existing beneath the UK's sprawling capital. It is inhabited by a feudal aristocracy, lonesome warriors and a religious cult that talks to rats. After two ruthless mercenaries slaughter one of London Below's most prominent families, the only survivor, a young woman named Door (for her ability to open mystic gates), escapes to London Above, where reluctant yuppie Richard Mayhew takes her in. Joined by the mordant Marquis de Carabas and a grim female bodyguard called (get this) Hunter, Richard and Door journey through London Below to find-out who ordered the deaths of Door's family and why.
Gaiman is an outstanding writer who eases readers into the strangeness of London Below and keeps them reading with intrigue that unfolds at just the right pace. I was must admit I was entertained while reading the book, but I doubt it is one that will stay with me for long.
This is for two reasons. The first is that Gaiman is apparently used to pencillers supplying the visuals to his stories. The descriptions of London Below were never vivid or colorful enough to leave an overly memorable picture in my mind. The second is that Gaiman fails to completely develop London Below. We never fully learn how this society functions, what separated it from London Above and how its strange customs came to be. Perhaps Gaiman was considering a sequel that would explain such, but still Neverwhere does not lay enough groundwork for readers to fully connect to this universe.
Neverwhere is smartly written and highly entertaining, but for works such as this the creation of a memorable universe is the deciding factor and it falls short on that criteria. Gaiman's best post-Sandman work will probably be another project.
on June 26, 2010
I'm really impressed by the worldbuilding skill that Gaiman demonstrates in this novel -- I know I'm going to be thinking twice next time I get on the metro. I had a hard time putting this book down when I first started it: the main character, Richard, is endearing & funny & doesn't suffer from the Gary Stu complex that plagues so many fantasy/scifi texts, and discovering the ways of London Below along with him was tons of fun.
Gaiman definitely has a gift for creating characters who are unique and memorable. Richard was great (I love protagonists who are not all Serious Business), as was the Marquis, Old Bailey, and many of the weird and wonderful denizens of London Below. I didn't like Door particularly, though, with her amazing flame-coloured hair (that "shone in the dawn like burnished copper") and her "odd-coloured eyes" that (gasp!) change colour... I'm confused about why Gaiman fell back on such a trite descriptive route with his heroine. Also, the fox/wolf thing that characterizes the two main antagonists was beaten over and over again quite tiresomely, to the point that when Vande-whatsit "howled like a wolf" (twice) I was rolling my eyes. Oh well. The other characters make up for it!
I'm giving this three stars because, as much as I enjoyed it, there were a couple of aspects that I thought could have used a little more work. While the alternate underground world Gaiman created was original and fresh and unpredictable, the plot itself was unfortunately not: a Revenge For Murder Of Family plotline drives the narrative (with a standard whodunit driving *that* because we don't know who killed them) & a few quests thrown in for good measure (get me the magic key, pass the 3 tests with the Generic Mysterious Order)... meh! I was definitely reading to find out more about London Below than I was to discover whether Door would figure out whodunit and slay them dramatically (which she does). There were lots of fantasy-standard Mysterious Items With Magical Properties that I thought Gaiman could have done away with as well (mysterious silver box, mysterious silver key, mysterious knife, mysterious spear, mysterious feather).
The text could also have used some tighter editing in places, especially to avoid this kind of repetition: "... and approached Old Bailey to embrace him and conclude the deal. The old man averted his face and held his breath until the embrace concluded" -- or "'[...] I can rely on your discretion."' '"You can rely on me, lady.'"
Another little quibble: I would've liked the names to have been reworked/rethought as well, names do not have to relate to occupation or defining trait to quite this extent! Door (opens doors). The Night Bridge (is a dark bridge). The Golden (is golden). Hunter (hunts).
Anyway -- my gripes are minor compared to what makes this book strong, but I did want to make a note of them regardless. All things considered, though, if you want to delve into a world that is as original as it is intriguing (and frequently quite scary), this is definitely worth a read.
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]
on July 31, 2015
Neverwhere is a phenomenal story and if you haven't read it, you are missing a life changing journey.
That said, the Kindle version of this novel is not (yet) the author's preferred version, nor does it have the novella 'How the Marquis Got his Coat Back'.
I made Neil aware of this issue on Twitter and he is looking to work with Amazon to at least get the Kindle version page updated to reflect that it is not the author's preferred version.
7/28/2015 The author's preferred version was released.
7/31/2015 (As of) the Kindle page still has false advertisement saying it is the author's preferred version.
8/12/2015 The U.S. Kindle version is now the preferred edition.
Alice meets the Wizard of Oz - and you'll never want to leave the underground.
This was an amazing book! Living in NYC it made me really think about those random "dead ends" and the gap between the subway and the platform. (an idea that I am sure JK Rowling got from Neil...)
I really wanted to visit the London Underground (and I don't mean the subway) after reading this delightful and absorbing novel. The characters were well written and memorable.
This was one of the best books I have read in ages. I could not put it down and began to re-read it the moment I finished! Neil Gaiman not only has a fantastic imagination, he also has a great sense of humor and we are just so lucky that he has decided to share them and his amazing talent with us. I can't wait to read Stardust!
If you read one book this year - read this one. A magical, mysterious romp in a world you can only hope really exists. My next vacation is going to be to London Underground.
Pick this book up and I promise you will not want to put it down.
on September 8, 1997
There's a certain kind of story that I'm a sucker for, the story of average people with average lives getting sucked into a world of magic and the supernatural. Its the subject of many bad movies on cable tv late at night, but when its done well it can't be beat for entertainment value.
Neil Gaiman has been a favorite of mine since I discovered "The Sandman" several years ago, so I jumped at this novel as soon as I saw it. The premise of this book is not terribly original, it combines elements of Tim Powers' "The Anubis Gates", Christopher Fowler's "Roofworld" and many a classic quest novel (there are repeated references to "The Wizard of Oz" among other things), but the execution is deeply satisfying.
Gaiman makes it seem so effortless, its not until you've finished the book that you realize what a great story he has pulled off. I particularly liked the concept of Earl's Court as a travelling subway car, invisible to the up-worlders going about their business on the same train.
But what really makes this novel work is the characters, the hapless hero Richard, young Door, the mysterious marquis and Hunter, and two of the most unforgettable villains you will ever meet. I cared what happened to them all. I hope Gaiman will return to this world in future novels, as Robert Holdstock did with "Mythago Wood" (also highly recommended).
on February 2, 2008
Pros: A good story idea and lots of original, thought provoking ideas spread throughout the book.
Cons: The characters are mostly one-dimensional, the writing is mediocre, and the world is not as vivid as I would expect.
I had heard great things about Neil Gaiman and just occasionally this book seemed like it was going to live up to that reputation, but the bland characters and lifeless writing made it hard to appreciate either the great ideas or the unique world.
The idea of the dark, underground universe is a good one and throughout the book there are several other really interesting ideas, notably angels, labyrinths and markets. Parts of the book are really engaging and you begin to think that the story is going to pick up and be something great, but it never quite manages to do so.
Gaiman's writing style is generally very bland. Every now and then he will bust out with a great metaphor or a unique description, but mostly, his writing utterly fails to bring to life London Below. You can never quite visualize anything -- the sights, the smells, the sounds. One is merely left with the impression of location after location that is dark and shabby with little to differentiate between them. This, combined with the fact that he gives little background for his world means that the most interesting parts of the story are often when Richard is in the real world. There are tantalizing hints of the other London being connected with different periods of history, but even these are under-utilized.
Perhaps this would be excusable if the book had good characters, but for the most part it does not. The villains, Croup and Vandemar, are the only characters who are fully engaging and even then, this is not because of their complexity, but because their evilness is so refreshingly complete -- it extends from the truly horrific to the petty. Richard is decently characterized, but all of the other characters, particularly the female ones, are extremely one-dimensional. Gaiman seems to rely on dramatic reveals rather than slow and steady character development to give them personality, but by the end of the novel, I care so little about most of the characters that it doesn't matter what happens to them. The ending itself also felt a little cliché and predictable, as good as the story was for the rest of the book.
This book has a pretty good story and lots of really nice ideas, but it needs more attention to character development and more detailed, vivid writing. Perhaps Gaiman should stick to other forms of writing as this feels like it would have worked much better as a graphic novel or a screenplay where visual cues could give the audience a better understanding of the setting and the characters.
on September 14, 2000
Neverwhere is a kind of fun and fantastic adventure through a London we've never seen. It's the London Below, where those who've slipped through the cracks end up, and one man's (he from the "normal" world) journey as he winds up in this world. And despite all the enjoyment with the characters and the wonderful story that takes us everywhere, it's Gaiman's own enjoyment which comes through the pages. One impression I get as a read this book was Neil Gaiman every now and again sitting back while at his computer and laughing at some small element of story or wording or character that came out and how fun it was. Example - while walking through some rather thick London fog, the main character coughs, and says, "Sorry, fog in my throat." Short, funny, and fun. A nice pun that I think had Gaiman laugh for a moment. I think he had a blast writing this book. And those who want to write will love this book. It's inspirational in that it reintroduces you to having fun with the craft of storytelling. Fun with your characters as they surprise you, fun with your setting as you see where it takes you, and fun with your story as you see what happens next. Reading this instantly made me want to run off and write my own stories, merely for the sheer fun of it. Merely to have as much fun as Neil Gaiman seemed to have had with this.