Richard Mayhew is an everyday nobody with a quiet life, a boring job, and an impending marriage to someone above his station. But an unusual encounter with a young girl who he finds bleeding on the street is about to expose him to the world beyond the cracks in society too many in London have been unfortunate enough to fall through.
Neil Gaiman has become the prototypical “rock star” novelist, expanding upon his initial fame from his award winning run on Vertigo Comics’ The Sandman. His tales generally blend elements of horror and fantasy in vastly captivating ways. I’ve read a fair number of Gaiman’s books and stories, but while I’ve liked a lot of it nothing has come close to unseating Neverwhere’s firm grasp as my favorite. Gaiman expanded upon a screenplay he wrote for a BBC tv series of the same name to include everything he couldn’t in the show and give true life to the story that grew in his head far bigger than what could be realized in its original form.
Richard is an excellent protagonist. In over his head and a bit hapless, but generally good of heart. He’s the audience proxy into the strange world of London Below, but has just enough definition and individuality that he’s not a cypher. The realms he explores are home to those who fell through the cracks of society, and are wonderfully imaginative and well realized. Gaiman uses literal interpretations of London geography as a springboard for populating London Below with captivatingly bizarre places and people to frame Richard’s journey. Watching as events unfold around him is highly engaging.
But beyond even the twists and turns of the plot and Richard’s strengths as a main character, Neverwhere shines brightest for me in its supporting cast. From the tragedy touched yet determined Door to the unsettling, relentless Croup and Vandermar to the delightfully enigmatic and coldly practical Marquis de Carabas and beyond, the intertwining of diverse and well defined characters and their conflicting agendas is what truly propels this novel along and keeps me coming back for reread after reread.
Gaiman’s vision of a fantastically strange and often dangerous world in between the normalcy of everyday London is an adventure quite unlike anything else I’ve read and something I wholly recommend experiencing. It isn’t grand literature per se, but it is a grand adventure.