I just outright devoured Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere. As the first book I’ve read since the end of the semester, it was bound to be a relief from the academic grind, but this was a particularly satisfying choice. I started the book around 8:30 in the morning, and had finished it by 4:00 p.m. (See? Devoured.) Gaiman’s pacing in the story had much to do with my reading pace; his novel starts off at a run, and never really slows down until the final chapters.
The reader is introduced to Richard Mayhew, a young Scottish man living in London. His life is fine, but rather lackluster. This all changes dramatically when he refuses to ignore a hurt young woman laying, filthy and bloody, on the sidewalk. Though his fiancee breaks up with him for doing so, Richard picks up the girl and, when she panics at his offer to take her to a hospital, takes her back to his flat to tend to her. The girl is named Door, and is not from the same London that Richard inhabits. Instead, she is from the shadowy second city — London Below. This underworld exists side-by-side with London Above, as the secretive residents of London Below refer to it, but few people can even see the people or the signs of this separate civilization. Door explains that people fall through the cracks in the city, and end up in the realm of magic and darkness.
Despite Door’s efforts to shield Richard from her world, she needs his help. Door is being pursued by two assassins named Mr. Croup and Mr. Vandemar; she doesn’t know who sent them or why, only that they are lethal and terrifying. The two men are one of Gaiman’s best achievements in this novel. They are quietly horrifying, sadists that maintain polite tones and grammatical correctness as they chase down their prey. Several of their scenes made the hair on my arms stand up. These two men are working for a secret employer, likely the same person that ordered the brutal murder of Door’s family prior to the events of the novel.
As he contacts people from her world, Richard becomes more and more entangled in the web of London Below. Door attempts to leave before any real damage is done, but Richard slips into her world against their best efforts. Richard is literally no longer visible to the people in London Above, and even the people that can see him don’t recognize him. Their gaze simply slides off him, and they forget about him as soon as their attention wavers. His job is gone. His apartment is sold out from under him. His fiancee forgets he ever existed. Left with nothing, Richard has no choice but to enter London Below and search for Door in hopes of finding someone to help him.
In London Below, Richard is utterly out of his element. He obtains a guide of sorts, but she soon disappears under murky circumstances. At the vibrant floating market, Richard is able to ask around — trading a hankerchief for information — and is directed to where he can find the pixie-like Door. Door and her allies, a bodyguard as brutal as she is beautiful named Hunter and the well-connected but definitely shady Marquis de Carabas, initially want nothing to do with a bumbling outsider. Door, however, is soon overcome by guilt and allows Richard to tag along with them.
Richard is overcome by the world around him, which defies reality. The group’s adventures come fast and heavy, with injuries, fights, and even deaths along the way. Their quest is mercurial, as are Door’s supposed friends. Richard discovers a side of himself that he never knew existed, and begins to come into his own. The characters are interesting and engaging, and each is more well-rounded than I initially expected. Gaiman paints flaws into each of them, but it’s hard to hate any of the motley crew, even the one (*mini spoiler alert!*) who turns out to be a traitor.
I enjoyed Neverwhere, though there were a few loose ends at the close of the novel that I rather wished had been addressed. I did like the ending, though, despite the minor unfinished business. Neil Gaiman’s adventure is a fast, easy read, good for escaping the ordinary, if only for a few hours.