Belarius's Reviews > Neverwhere

Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman
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's review
Jan 26, 2008

really liked it
bookshelves: fiction-finished, speculative-fiction, reviewed
Recommended for: Gaiman Fans
Read in July, 2007

Neil Gaiman's influential penchant for dark urban fantasy presents itself in its least complicated form in his first novel, Neverwhere. The book has the simplistic characters and perfectly-even pacing of television, which should come as no surprise as it is, in fact, an adaptation of a BBC miniseries. The book is pure entertainment, which is as much praise as it is condemnation.

Neil Gaiman is reputed to have a near-encyclopedia knowledge of matters both historical and fantastical, and this is without a doubt the singular strength he has to his advantage in the field of fantasy authors. His stories are elegant, Frankensteinian creations, the admixture of dozens of obscure references, conventional character archetypes, and fairy-tale plot structures. Neverwhere benefits from this approach, its various components fitted together by clever joints. The world is engaging, the story is easy to follow, the villains are the kind you love to hate, and the tried-and-true formulas go unviolated. Everything works.

And yet, like Frankenstein's creation, the story's efficient construction can't overcome what it is: an assembly of existing parts into a working whole. The protagonist, Richard Mayhew, really could just as easily be named "Arthur Dent," and undergoes a journey of self-discovery as mundane and uninteresting as the life he leaves behind when he is swept into London Below (a fantasy realm just below modern-day London). The other characters are, with few exceptions, completely flat, showing neither emotional range or development over the course of the story. Like any classic fairy tale, it's hard to tell the characters from the set dressing, and visa versa.

It's hard to fault Gaiman, as he's done everything right. And it's no surprise that, among readers of popular fantasy, Neverwhere is much-beloved as "brilliant modern storytelling." After all, here's a book that presents a world, both terrible and marvelous, in very readable prose and with PG-13 sensibilities. Despite its darkness, it's not terribly challenging or haunting, both qualities that would normally get in the way of pure entertainment. But at the end of the day, it's just another fairy tale, and like all things fae, it lacks the substance to be truly great.
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Comments (showing 1-3 of 3) (3 new)

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message 1: by Amy (new) - rated it 5 stars

Amy I just finished reading this - and you summed it up perfectly!

Bill Ah, but you missed a main point. London Below is not a fantasy realm. If you are familiar with London Below, then you've met all of the characters before and the book descriptions are spare, not flat.

Beenish Siddiqui if it lacks substance why give it 4 stars? :)

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