Neverwhere Book Review

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Luke Holcomb, Writer

Neverwhere is a 1996 urban fantasy novel written and published by English author Neil Gaiman.

Taking place in late 20th-century London, the book follows young businessman Richard Mayhew as his normal life spirals out of control after helping an injured woman on the streets. By the name of Door, this woman leaves his life as quickly as she entered it; miraculously recovering from her wounds in Richard’s flat the next morning, she departs alongside her new companion, the Marquis de Carabas, that day.

Richard’s life, however, is catapulted far beyond his understanding, as when he tries to return to his mundane existence, he is seemingly ignored by every person in London. His life sprawls into insanity and he finds himself stumbling through London Below, the home for people who fell between the cracks, accompanied by Door, her bodyguard Hunter and the Marquis de Carabas.

What makes this book stand out to me is Gaiman’s incredible writing style; he employs a mix of casual and traditional writing that makes reading his books both entertaining and accessible. He provides the perfect amount of description in every scene, not overdoing himself with boring and needless intricacies, but still providing enough detail to portray the setting.

Gaiman’s writing of the characters in Neverwhere occurs in such a way that makes them feel natural and human. The dialogue flows like it would in reality, and the depth he adds to each character contributes to the development of both a character’s personality and morals. Throughout the novel, I found myself increasingly connected with the characters and their separate stories, oftentimes surprised by the decisions they made but fulfilled when it was explained in later chapters.

Hunter, for example, is a character introduced fairly early on in the novel. She was depicted as stoic and dispassionate, with a rare flare of amusement. Later in the story, though, as Richard’s trust for Hunter blossoms and we learn that Hunter’s goals have been to kill the beasts below each city and prove herself strongest, the reveal of her betrayal strikes much deeper had the audience not grown attached to her as a person and learned her motivations.

Furthermore, this is shown again with the Marquis de Carabas: an arrogant, pretentious and purposefully unlikeable character. At the beginning of the book, he was rude and dismissive and showed no care for if Richard lived or died, but as the novel progressed, the actions he took and why he did so make his character feel more understood. This is expressed particularly when he risks his life to gather information for Door, getting himself killed (and later brought back) in the process, and when he saves Richard’s life, an action that shows growth and connection for his character.

Despite Richard being the actual protagonist of the story, I felt as if each “side” character held an equal amount of weight in the story and provided an element that would otherwise be missing from the novel.

Neverwhere’s plot, too, was developed with precise care by Gaiman. The pace of the book is incredibly satisfying to experience, giving just the right amount of detail and progressing a scene exactly when the excitement begins to die down. Gaiman is able to switch moods in his novels on the fly, and his storytelling of Neverwhere lends to the deep range of emotions it is able to draw out in his readers.

The style and content of the book both made Neverwhere appear very different from most contemporary writing to me and throughout my first and second readings of the book, I was incredibly engaged from start to finish. Because it does not lean heavily into the fantasy genre, Neverwhere is accessible to readers of any book preference. I would greatly recommend this book, and urge you to come and explore a city of monsters and saints, murderers and angels and the people who have fallen between the cracks.