I first read Neil Gaiman’s book Neverwhere, I had recently returned from London, or “London Above,” as Mr. Gaiman would have it. Since the book is set in London, reading Neverwhere after my trip not only made me miss London, but it made me see the city is a completely different way. Neverwhere is an urban fantasy novel based off the T.V. series with the same title, written by Neil Gaiman and Lenny Henry. The story follows Richard Mayhew, a regular Londoner with a boring job and a nagging fiancée. Richard’s life changes, however, when he comes helps a wounded girl named Door who draws him into the adventure of London Below.
Gaiman unleashes all of his artistic creativity in London Below, a fantastical world located below London as we know it, where there are friars in black robes at the Black Friars subway stop, an earl at Earl’s Court, and a floating market above Harrods. London Below is a fun and intricate interpretation of the London above it, and it provides a unique setting for Gaiman’s unique cast of characters.
Richard Mayhew is nothing special, at least from the outside. He appears to be an unadventurous businessman caught up in supernatural events. Throughout the book, however, Richard grows as a character, and he proves to be more courageous than he appeared to be. Through Richard, Gaiman shows how even an ordinary person can become an extraordinary hero.
Door is a member of a prestigious family in London Below. She is a smart and determined young lady who loves her family. After her family is murdered in cold blood, and Door is determined to find out who killed her family. Door has a special talent to help her, though. Like Richard, there is more to her than meets the eye.
To help her in her quest, Door seeks out the help of the Marquis de Carabas, an eccentric character who proves to be more than he appears. Door also enlists the help of a bodyguard named Hunter, a woman famed for fighting the alligator king of New York City, the bear of Berlin, and the black tiger of Calcutta. Hunter also proves to be more than she appears.
In pursuit of Door and her companions is a pair of assassins, Mr. Croup and Mr. Vandemar. These two characters earn the book a mature rating, as they ruthlessly and violently hunt Door and her friends. With these dark characters, however, Neil Gaiman demonstrates his talent for writing a diverse cast of characters and dealing with the reality of evil in London Below.
Door’s journey takes her to Islington, an angel who possesses the knowledge of what happened to Door’s family. Be careful, however, for Islington is also more than he appears.
In Neverwhere no character is what he or she seems to be. Neil Gaiman is a genius with characters, an author who understands in the intricacies, both good and bad, in people. Neverwhere is the pinnacle example of this. Gaiman demonstrates his mastery of setting and character. This book demonstrates the darkest side of characters, but at the same time Mr. Gaiman shows how the hero can come out in anyone. No one is who he or she appears to be on the surface. There are surprises with every character, but this adds to the mystery and thrill of the book.
Gaiman’s book is very dark, but the darkness intensifies the light that shines through in the climax of the book. Neverwhere is a beautifully and masterfully written novel. If you enjoy dark stories, fantasy or contemporary novels, complex characters, and an original yet familiar world, then Neverwhere is for you.