Sunday, September 23, 2018

Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman

Neverwhere (London Below, #1)Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This started out slow for me. The first chapter or so literally put me to sleep and I had to restart it. Part of that was because I was tired--a common prerequisite to sleep--and part because I had to reorient myself to the world on this book. I didn't know anything about the book, so I was trying to understand it as a British coming of age relationship story, when I was encountering a dark fantasy-world-hidden-in-our-world thriller. Once I got into the right frame of reference things went smashingly.

Croupe and Vandamar are superb villains, as they strike the terror of torturing serial killers with the readability of Horace and Jasper from 101 Dalmatians. Without that snappy--albeit dark--dialogue, I think they would have been a bit too much for me and this would have moved toward being a Dean Koontz style thriller, which I sampled in Jr. High years ago and decided wasn't for me.

The concept of having a story about multiple Londons, with a main character with the ability to magically open doors seemed a bit worn out after reading VE Schwab's Shades of Magic (book 1, 2, 3) series in the last year or so. While there are some overlapping features, the plots are different enough that I suppose it's ok, but to me there was also a similar writing style, as the level graphic violence/torture was also similar. I wonder which book came out first, and if the second author would admit to being influenced by the other... (I looked it up later. Neverwhere was first by over a decade, so Gaiman wins.)

Finally, the magic system. In this book magic is ever present, but never really center stage. Many characters have special abilities, but the origin of those abilities are never explained, and they are generally secondary to everything else going on. They are treated more like innate hereditary talents than character defining traits. Even Door's family is more defined by their political role than their magic ability. Their titles are political (Earl, Baron, Marquis) rather than magical ability (wizard, mage, witch, Door Opener). A final comment on the magic system: a rare but interesting approach is to mix religious characters and features into the magic system. Having an angel, a traditionally religious figure of power, central to the plot was a nice twist.

Overall, this book was unexpectedly good. Interesting concepts and characters throughout. Weaknesses for me were in certain characters at certain times. Richard was a wimpy corporate figure who was supposed to be old enough to work in an investment house, but acts like a teenager at times and is even called a kid by the Marquis near the end. I don't know what to make of him. Door is portrayed as a teenage girl, but sometimes acts like a mature woman. In both cases, I think the intent was to provide character growth to explain the concern, but they are inconsistent and flip flop through out the book, with mature moments at the beginning and juvenile moments at the end. When it comes to Croupe and Vandamar, their intrinsic motivations are unclear. Time traveling serial killing partners, yes, but why? Characters are the weakness for me, but this is a book club read for me, so I'll see if someone in that group can handle my concerns.