NEVERWHERE By Neil Gaiman
Headline Books, s/b, £8.99
Reviewed by Matthew Johns
Neil Gaiman needs little to no introduction to many, but just in case you’ve not heard of him, he wrote American Gods (yes, the one that the TV show is based on), Stardust (that’s the film with Robert De Niro playing a cross-dressing pirate), The Ocean at the End of the Lane (the one that’s a play in London’s West End), The Sandman (the one being turned into a massive Netflix TV series that’s also a superb full cast audiobook on Audible), multiple Dr Who episodes, co-wrote Good Omens with Terry Pratchett (the Amazon Prime series with Michael Sheen and David Tennant), many other classic books and TV shows, and of course this beauty.
Gaiman has the ability to draw you into his fantastical worlds that have close echoes of our own, and Neverwhere is no different. The protagonist, Richard Mayhew, moves from Scotland to London for work and settles into London life fairly quickly. Finds himself almost accidentally engaged to a very ambitious lady named Jessica who expects him to follow closely behind her and do what she says, but then things change one night when he finds a girl bleeding in the street. Instead of letting his fiancée drag him away to a very important dinner, he stops, helps her, and finds his life turned upside down.
Richard finds that his previous life is no more – no longer recognised by his friends and co-workers, he discovers the existence of London Below – a London that operates under a different set of rules to the London we know (known as London Above). Where Wi-Fi and bank cards don’t work, where London Underground stations are more than just a place to catch the tube. Where “mind the gap” is a warning against a very real danger and everything he thought he knew turns out to be wrong. The girl he saved is the Lady Door, the only surviving member of a family of “openers” – people who can create doors anywhere. She’s being hunted by deadly assassins while trying to find who murdered her family. Richard tags along with Door, her bodyguard Hunter and the mysterious Marquis de Carabas as they try to survive on their quest.
This is a rip-roaring adventurous romp that is classic Neil Gaiman – witty, clever, thrilling and compelling in equal measures. His dialogue sparks across the page, his characters are deeply complex and believable at the same time, and the world of London Below is a fascinating take on the world we know. Earl’s Court is a court held by an Earl in a tube carriage; Old Bailey is an eccentric with a liking for birds that lives on the roofs of London, the Black Friars protect an ancient and valuable artefact, and the Shepherds of Shepherds Bush are to be feared. This edition of the book comes with the “How the Marquis got his coat back” short story, which is also an exceptionally enjoyable read. In short, Neverwhere is a true classic and is an absolute gem.