Richard Mayhew is in way over his head – or under it. All he did was try to help a girl he saw bleeding on the streets of London, and all of a sudden his friends don’t know who he is, his apartment has been sold to someone else with him still living in it, and two creepy goons from another world are out to get him. That world is London Below, consisting of just about everything under the Underground and peopled with rat-speakers, beast-hunters, and a girl that can open any door (hint: this is the bleeding girl). Richard must help the girl, Door (shocker, right?) avenge her murdered family if he ever wants to see London Above again.
If I’m not mistaken, this was one of Neil Gaiman’s first novels (it’s also a novelized version of a BBC show that Gaiman helped write). If you know Gaiman’s work at all, “Neverwhere” has his name written all over it. The realistic-yet-magical setting and the trademark nonchalant creepiness – which, of course, is even creepier than all-out-horror – appears in everything by him I’ve read. That’s only two books, though: “The Graveyard Book,” which I adored, and “Coraline,” which I tolerated. My opinion of “Neverwhere” is kind of like my opinion of “Coraline”: tolerable, but by no means the best available.
Maybe it’s the plot. There were several points in the book where I would be happily reading along only to realize that I had no idea where the characters were going or how they got there. They didn’t seem to know themselves, and after a while, I stopped caring. Or maybe it’s the characters. There were a lot of almosts: Richard was almost a hero, Door was almost a strong female, the villain was almost a good villain. But almost no one made it to great or even good.
And as a result, neither did the book. But I’m still optimistic: “Coraline,” after all, was Gaiman’s first venture into the world of children’s literature. “Neverwhere” was his first novel. Isn’t it understandable that both would be a little rough? I’m certain that Gaiman’s adult equivalent of “The Graveyard Book” is out there somewhere. I look forward to finding it, but it certainly isn’t here.