Richard Mayhew is a young man with a good heart and an ordinary life, which is changed forever when he stops to help a girl he finds bleeding on a London sidewalk.
His small act of kindness propels him into a world he never dreamed existed. There are people who fall through the cracks, and Richard has become one of them.
And he must learn to survive in this city of shadows and darkness, monsters and saints, murderers and angels, if he is ever to return to the London that he knew.
~ Synopsis from Goodreads
To sum up this book in a nutshell, I paraphrase Gaiman himself who mentioned that this book is an Alice in Wonderland for adults. There’s really no better description.
The book is about a nice guy Richard Mayhew who helps a girl he finds bleeding on the street. That one random act of kindness changes his life completely and throws him into a fantastic life in the London underground called London Below (or Neverwhere).
I love this quote from the book highlighting Richard’s descent into Neverwhere. I also love how beautifully Gaiman has populated Neverwhere with people who are homeless or destitute in London Above. It’s very beautifully and thoughtfully done.
Young man,” he said, “understand this: there are two Londons. There’s London Above – that’s where you lived – and then there’s London Below – the Underside – inhabited by the people who fell through the cracks in the world. Now you’re one of them. Good night.
He then gets roped into helping the girl somewhat adorably called Door into finding the man (or thing as it turns out), that killed her family and making sure she is safe.
This involves meeting all kinds of strange characters and roaming all through London’s Underground system. And this part is great, just great. I could really appreciate Gaiman’s originality and creativity in these sections where he builds a world very similar to ours, but different in some very, very quirky ways.
Actually, I liked this book overall. I liked it better than The Graveyard Book, which is the only other Neil Gaiman book I have read. The Graveyard Book was nice, although a bit on the childish side, whereas Neverwhere is a book that adults can love without having to discover their inner child, if you get what I mean.
So, the fantasy and the world-building is great. The characters, particularly the two assassins Croup and Vandemar are great. The writing and the wit is great.
Croup and Vandemar like most villains in books get the best lines. For example, this is how these assassins answer their phone 🙂
Croup and Vandemar – eyes gouged, noses twisted, tongues pierced, chins cleft, throats slit
The plot though is not so strong, in between the book started to drag a bit. By the middle of the book, I was like enough already with the atmosphere, let’s get on with Door’s quest. Thankfully, it looked like Gaiman was listening because soon enough they descend into the Beast’s lair and grapple with the villain.
I have to say that this part although tense and exciting ultimately fell rather flat. I guess because the quest is personal, there’s never enough impact. When the villain is killed, there really is no feeling that something evil is eradicated from the world, or that the world is saved, or any such drama. Also the extra 20 or so pages after the villain’s death seem a little unnecessary. Richard’s eventual life decision really didn’t need so many pages devoted to it.
Overall, the book is good. It’s some light and fun reading, and one step above from a read it, enjoy it, and forget it type of novel. However, it’s also one step short of mind-blowing and unforgettable. And I feel really sad about saying that because I did genuinely like this novel, but I think somewhere along the way, it didn’t live up to the expectations it set at the beginning of the book.
Oh, and there’s one more gripe I have. It’s the Lady Door. I hate how all the other characters are described with terms like smelly and stuff like that. But no such adjective is used to describe Door. I get it, she’s the heroine of the book and all that, but it irritates me that just because she is the heroine she’s given the adorable urchin description with red hair and lovely eyes. I’d love to know who looks adorable when they live within the sewers!