Review: Neverwhere

June 6, 2011 Comments Off on Review: Neverwhere

What a perfect light fantasy read! It’s a shame you’ve already read books like this one, because Neil Gaiman does them better than anybody. It’s my favorite genre: a quest story taking place in a fantasy world that does not involve dragons, wizards, and so on. Richard Mayhew is on his way to a dull, happy? future with his fiancée and a decent job, but when he takes care of a wounded girl on the sidewalk, everything blows up and he finds himself “falling through the cracks” of London Above. He ends up in London Below, embroiled in a quest involving the Beast of London, an angel, and someone who can open doors that aren’t necessarily there.

Richard isn’t the greatest main character, although he might be the most realistic—there are no sudden discoveries of courage, no quick adaptations to the new world he finds himself in. He doesn’t like where he is and doesn’t understand what’s going on around him, but what’s great is that Gaiman makes him into a (mostly) sympathetic character instead of the pathetic whiner he might have become in less capable hands.

The structure is great. In contrast to some of the books I’ve read recently, the bopping around between viewpoints is only briefly disorienting, and serves as a propulsive force for the story. And the puzzles/tasks are good, too. I think there’s been a plague of puzzle inflation in the fantasy genre—if it’s not fantastically hard to do or fantastically hard to figure out, then the unraveling is not much fun to read, seems to be the rule of thumb for recent authors. And it’s too bad. But these are Goldilocks-just-right, I think. And the characters are awesome! Rock-solid, original within their types, yet mold-breaking with respect to their places in the story. In a pleasant contrast to some of the other Gaiman I’ve read, the ending is relatively strong. It’s a little predictable, but ends firmly without answering all questions. Well done.

None of it is too overdone, but nor is it dull—all of it is creative and light and just a blast to read. You can finish it in two days, and I highly recommend you do.

EXCERPT:

The girl called Door walked down the court, followed by the marquis de Carabas. There were a hundred other little courts and mews and alleys in London just like this one, tiny spurs of old-time, unchanged for three hundred years. Even the smell of piss here was the same as it had been in Pepys’s time, three hundred years before. There was still an hour until dawn, but the sky was beginning to lighten, turning a stark, leaden color. Strands of mist hung like livid ghosts on the air.
The door was roughly boarded up and covered with stained posters for forgotten bands and long-closed nightclubs. The two of them stopped in front of it, and the marquis eyed it, all boards and nails and posters, and he appeared unimpressed; but then, unimpressed was his default state.
“So this is the entrance?” he said.
She nodded. “One of them.”
He folded his arms. “Well? Say ‘Open sesame,’ or whatever it is that you do.”
“I don’t want to do this,” she said. “I’m really not sure that we’re doing the right thing.”
“Very well,” he unfolded his arms. “I’ll be seeing you, then.” He turned on his heel and began to walk back the way that they had come. Door seized his arm. “You’d abandon me?” she asked. “Just like that?”
He grinned, without humor. “Certainly. I’m a very busy man. Things to see. People to do.”
“Look, hold on.” She let go of his sleeve, bit her lower lip. “The last time I was here…” she trailed off.
“The last time you were here, you found your family dead. Well, there you are. You don’t have to explain it anymore. If we aren’t going in, then our business relationship is at an end.”
She looked up at him, her elfin face pale in the pre-dawn light. “And that’s all?”
“I could wish you the best of luck in your future career, but I’m afraid I rather doubt you’ll live long enough to have one.”
“You’re a piece of work, aren’t you?”
He said nothing. She walked back toward the door. “Well,” she said. “Come on. I’ll take us in.” Door put her left hand on the boarded-up door, and with her right hand she took the marquis’s huge brown hand. Her tiny fingers twined into his larger ones. She closed her eyes.
…something whispered and shivered and changed…
…and the door collapsed into darkness.

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