For the longest time I had heard so much about the magic of Neil Gaiman’s writing yet I had never read his work. I had first been exposed to it when I saw the movie Coraline and the marvelous oddity of it all enraptured me. When I started taking my own writing more seriously, I started watching interviews of writers and of course Neil Gaiman would always appear. Now I’ve finally read one of his works, Neverwhere, and it’s honestly as magical as I thought it would be.
Richard Mayhew’s call to adventure was one full of danger, mirth and a kind of wondrous darkness that is often not seen. The drastic change to his life, the cleansing of the old replaced with the new, played such a huge role in his character growth and I was so happy to see it stay as a persistent focus. He’s not brave, nor strong, nor is a natural born warrior, but a kind of courage in him that touches the heart as you see his journey unfold. There’s a moment in the story where I read it with barely a breath and wide eyed, wondering what he would do. It meant so much more because of how endearing of a character Richard is. At the core of it, he’s a good guy having a very strange day.
The side characters are also something amazing. From Door to the Marquis to even Mr. Croup and Mr. Vandemar, all of the characters are fleshed out and given real personalities that make them entertaining to read. The minor characters as well, from the rat-speakers to the Earls, they’re all imbued with great personalities and character defining traits that make them memorable. There was one minor character, seemingly very minor to the story, the broke my heart and I couldn’t stop thinking about it even though the character wasn’t present for more than a few pages. The fact that the incident keeps being brought up by Richard shows just how much it affected him as it did me and it helped to humanize not just him, but all the characters that sympathized with him.
The story starts with Richard Mayhew’s mundane life before it all comes crashing down in an exciting adventure. The story at the beginning takes its time to build up Richard and the world of London Below and when it does it’s a fun and exhilarating ride. Everything begins as a mystery as we’re introduced to the strange world that is London Below through the eyes of Richard. But as the plot is pushed forward by the characters, the world slowly becomes to feel normal. The twists and turns are unexpected but built up in a way that makes sense. Everything is hinted at earlier in the story which makes for many “aha!” moments. There comes a point where the story grabs the reader and never relinquishes that hold as the story ramps up with excitement.
I have no other way of saying this, but London Below is so weird in the best possible way. Like Richard, we’re flung into a world where seemingly nothing makes sense yet slowly the worldbuilding comes in like a slowly rising tide. Suddenly the world of Neverwhere feels less out of place and things gradually becomes the norm. It’s so amazing how odd everything is at first but slowly starts to become normal in a way I never thought possible. There even come references to things in the modern world, or “London Above”, that give a bit of an “oh snap” moment as you come across them. But the best part about all of this is that almost none of it comes in the form of an exposition dump. Almost everything is revealed through character discoveries like Richard’s curiosity, Door’s determination, or the Marquis’ plans. It all makes for a lovingly crafted world I found myself adoring more than I ever thought I would.
The way the sentences and paragraphs are structured, it’s easy to get lost in the story and read for hours and hours. There weren’t parts that felt plotting or artificially lengthened despite the chapters seemingly going on forever. But the best part of the entire story is how whimsical a lot of the writing becomes. Rather than a simple statement of what happened, there’s a colorful description of what’s transpired that brings a smile to the reader’s face. It all makes for a fun and enjoyable read.
What Writers can learn from this book
The story is one of the best examples I can think of that combines both endearing characters and character driven world building. Each of the characters, especially Richard, is sympathetic in their own way that really makes it so that the reader cares what happens to them. It all comes from the small little interactions, comments or even thoughts that litter the story as it progresses. What’s beautiful about this is that it’s used to further not just the plot but the world building as well. Richard asks questions, makes seemingly rude comments that would otherwise be normal, and he is never shutting up about it. The reader learns about the world through his eyes and comes to feel for it as well.
God I love this book!!