First published back in September of 1996, ‘Neverwhere’ formed Neil Gaiman’s novelisation of his incredibly successful television series of the same name.  The book was released during the broadcasting of the hit series, along with an audio book release.  Later on in September of 2005, Gaiman released an ‘Author’s Preferred Text’ version that combined elements from the original release with selected parts of the adapted international version, along with the inclusion of a number of additional scenes.  The following review is of the ‘Author’s Preferred Text’ version.

DLS Synopsis:
Everything in Richard Mayhew’s life changed the day that he and his fiancée Jessica were running late for their dinner meeting with Jessica’s highly influential boss.  As they dart through the streets of London, Mayhew witnesses a young girl collapsed and bleeding on the pavement.  After the girl refuses to be taken to a hospital, the young businessman is understandably concerned for the girl’s welfare, and as such, he decides that he should take her back to their home to recover.

The following morning and the young girl appears to have almost completely recovered.  The girl, known simply as ‘Door’, asks Mayhew to seek out a man named Marquis de Carabas who will hopefully be able to assist her in evading the merciless assassins - Mr Croup and Mr Vandemar.  However, upon returning with the arrogant Marquis through a mind-boggling journey of hidden doors and the like, Mayhew witnesses the two of them suddenly vanishing into thin air.

And from that moment on, Richard Mayhew’s life was never the same again.  He very quickly loses his job for not turning up for work, even though he had in fact been there, just no one seemed to be able to see him.  He returns to his flat which he finds has now been rented out to someone else – all of his possessions gone.  His life is in turmoil, and he is beginning to realise why.  He has ceased to exist in what is known as ‘London Above’.

Lost and confused in a world where no one can see him, Mayhew goes in search of Door and answers to what has happened to him.  He ventures to the underground world of ‘London Below’, where he encounters the Rat-Speakers, one of which (named Anaesthesia) upon the request of the Lord Rat, is told to escort him to the Floating Market.  However Anaesthesia never makes it across the mysterious Night’s Bridge on the way to the market.  For in the looming darkness, nightmarish horrors lurk.

Unscathed, Mayhew arrives at the great Floating Market of ‘London Below’ where he re-encounters Door who is auditioning for a new bodyguard.  Recruiting the legendary ‘Hunter’ to protect her, Door (along with her new bodyguard, the Marquis de Carabas and Richard) go off in search of the potentially real ‘Angel Islington’ in the hope of finding out the reasons behind the recent murder of Door’s entire family and a way back to ‘London Above’ for Richard.

But Mr Croup and Mr Vandemar are on their trail, and will stop at nothing in order to complete their task.  Through the magical underground world of ‘London Below’, Richard Mayhew will encounter untold mysteries and race through an underworld of danger and unparalleled magic.  In a quest for truth, the four of them are embarking on a desperate adventure with danger constantly at their heels.  The world of ‘London Below’ is about to swallow them whole...

DLS Review:
Okay, so Mr Gaiman has a heck of an imagination on him.  From the word go Gaiman starts twisting and turning the rules of our reality, playing with the near-limitless opportunities of a brightly imaginative mind.  True enough there were undoubtedly certain restrictions brought about by the storyline being written for a television series.  There’s only so much that budget and modern-day special effects will allow.  But any such limitations are far from apparent here.

What’s instantly captivating (for me at least) is the homeground backbone of the tale.  It’s our great city of London, joyfully expanded upon (or expanded underneath may be more appropriate).  Furthermore, Gaiman’s light-hearted wordplay with many of the well-known regions of London (such as the Angel Islington) can’t help but break a smile across most readers’ faces.

The storyline is fast moving, with plenty going on at any one time.  Admittedly the tale starts off in a somewhat bewildering and almost clumsy fashion, but it all soon becomes clear enough to the reader.  With the (ever so slightly weak) overriding plot laid out, the real body of the tale gets underway, with the threat of the two assassins the only reasonably strong factor keeping the ball rolling.

Characterisation is generally of a moderately poor level.  No characters particularly stick out from the pack, with any notably memorable roles, traits of characteristics.  Having read the novel a good six years ago (at the time of writing this), I was struggling somewhat to remember any of the characters at all.  A pretty thorough skim read, which ended up equating to re-reading quite a hefty portion of the book, simply re-introduced the characters to me rather than re-alighting any (hopefully fond) memories of them.  This told me a lot about the impact of the characters (or rather lack of) and their general dominance on the tale.

Putting all of that to the side for now, the vast majority of the tale is an exciting and thoroughly enjoyable read.  The imaginative second world for London manages to successfully spark off vivid pictures in the readers mind, always playing around with aspects of London and re-working it into an elaborate dark fantasy story.

Owing so much to the work of Clive Barker, Gaiman takes our everyday (and often mundane) world, and lets his imagination draw wild and often terrifying branches from its basic principles.  In doing so, he transforms our world into something very different, but still resonating with the model it originated from.  Throw in an everyday character (here being Mayhew) and you can explore the new possibilities and new-rules-of-nature through the virgin eyes of someone we can very much relate to.

Indeed, much of the story is geared towards Mayhew’s own journey of self-discovery.  As clichéd as it sounds, it does actually work incredibly well as it mixes with the fantastical sights and situations that are being brought into the equation from all directions. 

I can’t deny that this isn’t a thoroughly enjoyable read.  It most definitely is.  It kept be entertained from the very beginning, bombarding me with delightful deviations on our normal world, whisking the reader away with a chain-reaction of wildly exaggerated events sparked off by a vividly sharp imagination.  And so, for the sheer enjoyment of the novel alone, I feel I must recommend it.  But it has its flaws…and many of them.  For me (and this appears to be s a somewhat unpopular opinion on the matter) I really can’t see the tale being anything more than simply an imaginative jaunt through Gaiman’s creative mind.  And certainly nothing that will stay with you for years to come.

The novel runs for a total of 288 pages.

© DLS Reviews

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