Monday, September 12, 2016

“Neverwhere” by Neil Gaiman – A Labyrinth of Light and Shadow

Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman (Book cover)
Back in 1997 a certain author by the name of Neil Gaiman burst onto the literary scene and asserted himself as a talent to be reckoned with, publishing his first novel, Neverwhere.

It rapidly became a major landmark (so to speak) in the genres of urban and young adult fantasy, to the point where numerous versions of it were produced over the years.

The book has always fascinated and captured the minds of people from around the world, and so Gaiman decided to revisit where it all started for him, reconciling all the different editions into his preferred version of the tale.

To keep the story short and without spoilers, the book is all about a young man by the name of Richard Mayhew who lives a decent if unremarkable life, until the day he decides to help a girl who is bleeding.

Little did he know, that simple act of kindness marked the beginning of his passage into another world, one that seems to exist in the cracks and gaps of London, a domain of shadows, vile creatures, angels, killers and saints... a place called Neverwhere.

The girl Richard helped, Door, not only lives there, but is also a powerful noblewoman who is perhaps one of the few remaining hopes of a crumbling kingdom where death and destruction are only more and more common.

Though Richard would absolutely love it if he could return home, the way back is a lot more arduous than anticipated; before his path his open, he must help Lady Door in her perilous quest to defeat a mighty evil and save the surrealistic world he fell into.

As you might expect if you are already familiar with Neil Gaiman's works, Neverwhere is a magical yet somber kind of tale, one that is in equal measures shadow, light and surrealism. Most of the story takes place in the dreamlike labyrinthine world of underground tunnels and passageways below London, a realm onto itself where the rules of life seem to change drastically.

Everything seems to acquire a new meaning in that seedy underworld, reflected in one way or another the world up above. Every single nook, cranny and crevice in the London Below feels real and palpable, and the more we get acquainted with it the more it feels alive, almost sentient.

Gaiman certainly has no problems letting his imagination run wild, and ultimately he weaves together a thoroughly complex and intricate picture of a rather unique kingdom.

As far as the story's concerned, it moves along at a rather quick pace with something surprising always waiting to happen; bizarre occurrences litter the pages and things only seem to get weirder as the plot goes on. There is no shortage of dark, whimsical, creepy and funny moments, with the author putting on a grand display his wordsmithing skills.

Despite his use of a mostly simple language and structure, Gaiman still manages to convey some very complex thoughts and criticisms, mostly revolving around social hierarchy; there's more food for thought to be found here than you would expect from your typical young adult fiction book.

Unfortunately, I do have to admit that there are some weak moments in the plot where we take a bit of an unwarranted to leap to keep things moving, but in the end those moments have their charm as well, going well with the established atmosphere that dictates logic isn't everything.

The characters were also a bit too numerous to make for real in-depth development, but they are sufficiently fleshed out for the reader to at least care about their plights.

Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman (Book cover)
Despite these slight moments of weakness, the story is carried quite effortlessly by Gaiman's imagination, a power he seems to have a limitless supply of. The ending is executed with absolute brilliance and gives a sense of satisfaction many other books fail to give the reader.

All in all, Neverwhere may very well end up being the quintessential Neil Gaiman novel, one that truly showcases his might in all of its glory.

It's a novel written with a lot of love, care and dedication, one that really set new standards in its genre... a book I must recommend to anyone who likes young adult fiction.

Neil Richard Gaiman (Author)

Neil Gaiman

Personal site

Neal Gaiman is an English author whose efforts have mostly consisted of short and graphic novels, comic books, audio plays and he even dabbled in films.

He received more than 24 awards for his books, including one International Horror Guild Award and one British Fantasy Award. Some of his better-known books include Stardust, The Alchemy of MirrorMask, and Smoke & Mirrors.

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