It has been a while since I last read a Neil Gaiman book. I’ve had this one in my library for a while, but I got distracted by other things. But now that I’m done with… basically everything that’s been in my read list before Stormlight Archive 4, I finally made time for this.
Neverwhere stars Richard Mayhew, an average Londoner with an average job and a fiance too good for him. When he discovers a bloodied girl laying in the gutter and flies to her aid, he gets pulled into London Below, a dark and magical world filled with insane hobos, immortal assassins, angels, and murderous monsters. Now, in order to get his old life back, Richard must traverse the dangers of London Below with the girl, Door, the Marquis De Carabas, and their bodyguard. But can the perfectly normal, average Richard survive against the monstrous pair pursuing them?
The biggest stand-out feature of this book is the worldbuilding. London Below is such a huge and varied setting that you could never predict what you’ll find next! Gaiman masterfully sprinkles in tons of extra little details that don’t affect the main story, hinting at other small societies, histories, and magics that we never truly see. You can tell that this is a world that he very much loved and wanted to eventually go back to.
Now, as for the story itself… it’s pretty good. It isn’t as unique and memorable as some of Gaiman’s other works, like American Gods, but it’s still really enjoyable, though it’s still pretty predictable. Seriously, the twists in this book, while executed well, are so easy to see coming that you won’t even need to try and sniff them out.
To be fair, though: the characters within that story are really good. Richard is a fantastic ‘fish out of water’ character. Door is extremely cute and likable. I have an all-too-real crush on Hunter. The Marquis De Carabas is my favorite, being just nice, likable, and funny enough to offset the fact that he’s a huge asshole.
The two primary villains, Mr. Croup and Mr. Vandemar, are also masterfully built up. Not only are they clearly unstoppable and psychotic, but they’re also damn creepy! From Mr. Vandemar’s casual consumption of living things to Mr. Croup’s delight in silencing joy and causing suffering, these two dudes are legitimately super scary! If they were the main antagonists, they’d be incredible!
Unfortunately, they’re not. The ‘real’ main villain of the story (whom I shall not spoil for you) really isn’t all that compelling. Sure, he’s got some interesting stuff here and there. But his motivations, goals, and methods are kinda boring, for lack of a better word. Even after he steps out of the shadows and starts actually doing villainous stuff, he just never did anything for me!
This definitely isn’t my favorite Gaiman novel. It’s a great book, don’t get me wrong. But it’s not one that I’d often come back to, like American Gods or Good Omens. Still, if you’re in the mood for a simple and decent modern fantasy story, you could do a lot worse than this one.
Also, quick aside to wrap things up: make sure you read ‘How the Marquess Got His Coat Back’, if your version has it. It’s a little side story starring the Marquess De Carabas and it’s easily the best part of the book. Trust me.