At some point in the past year or so, I somehow got the idea that I didn’t especially like Neil Gaiman books; I blame a probably-too-fast re-reading of American Gods. Then I picked up Neverwhere off my TBR shelf (and it is a full shelf and a half right now), and I was reminded, oh, yeah, that’s why…
Neverwhere is basically Gaiman’s breakout hit, the novelization of a tv show that Gaiman says he’d always kind of intended to make into a novel, even as the show was being written and produced (my version is the author’s preferred text, and as such includes some extras). There’s a reason this book raised its author to all-star status: it’s basically the awesome things about his writing all together. Nearly all his novels with adult heroes (that I’ve read, and that’s most of them) follow this general pattern, at here it’s at its best.
Point 1: the originally wussy or weak hero who learns how to be heroic mostly by accident, without turning superhero, and often unwillingly. Richard Mayhew is all these things, stuck in a corporate job with a fiancée he says he loves but doesn’t really seem to, etc. He gets dragged into supernatural-ish adventures, and learns that the world can be interesting. At the end, he needs to decide what he wants: dull and safe, or dangerous and interesting.
Point 2: bring on the weirdness of an alternate reality: Lady Door and the rapscallion who calls himself the Marquis of Carabas. Richard tries to help an injured girl who is running from something who turns out to be a noble heiress from London Below, a shadowy, monstrous (literally) version of the world that exists at the border of most human perceptions. In so doing, Richard gets caught up in her quest, and in the process meets talking rats, an angel named Islington, a succubus named Lamia, the Baron of Baron’s Court station, etc.
Point 3: the evil and creepy villains. Mr. Croup and Mr. Vandemar are the epitome of bad guy duo, with Mr. Vandemar the more intelligent and human seeming of the two, and Mr. Croup who likes to eat puppies and kill things. Probably demonic somethings or other hired by a mysterious (for most of the book) boss to catch Door.
Point 4: the final confrontation that has some kind of climactic battle and a major plot twist of some sort to kick-start it. The plot twist in this case is the reveal of who actually hired Mr. Coup and Mr. Vandemar, and why. The added interestingness of that character is both expected and not, ie- it makes sense, but I didn’t see it coming. The final battle is against the Great Beast of London, which one of Richard and Door’s companions had betrayed them to get the weapon to destroy- a bucket list thing. Naturally, Richard ends up being the one to defeat the Beast, and not entirely on purpose.
Overall, I needed this. It was a reminder as to why Neil Gaiman has the reputation that he does, and it’s just a good but literary read.