Not sure if I’ve just been on a reading kick or if writing about reading is serving as a weird form of peer pressure, but I clipped through Neverwhere relatively quickly. If you only get one paragraph, I’ll let this be it:
The book is led by fantastic characters and has a great sense of humor overall. Gaiman did a decent job of misdirection, and the pacing works out pretty well. My one gripe, which isn’t a real gripe, is that the book doesn’t have a clean, wrapped in a bow ending. But that’s not a real gripe. That’s just a preference for my books.
Now let’s tell the story of how I got to this book in the first place:
This is my 3rd Gaiman book. I read Stardust, then American Gods, and now this. The latter two were recommendations. The first was a byproduct of me liking the movie when I caught it on Netflix.
A few different people had recommended American Gods, so I bought it. And when I was asking what book to read next out of the ones I owned, a few people kept recommending American Gods, but I just wasn’t quite in the mood for it. I was equating it with Piers Anthony’s On a Pale Horse. They seemed vaguely similar based on their broad description and came recommended by the same person. I bought both at the same time but read On a Pale Horse first.
Unfortunately, I didn’t really like On a Pale Horse (I liked the idea, but the execution was wasn’t as refined as it should have been), so I just kept thinking I wasn’t going to like the book.
And so I sat with American Gods in my Kindle queue for more than a year afraid to invest time in it.
A few months after buying the book, I watched Stardust on Netflix. It was a movie I remembered coming out, and that was about it. I watched mostly on a whim, not realizing the Gaiman connection. I enjoyed the movie, and when I looked it up, I learned it was based on a book. So of course, I bought the book and enjoyed it.
But even then, I couldn’t convince myself to read American Gods. I sat for about another 7 months before I finally worked up the courage. It ended up being a fantastic book, so this led to me buying the first volume of the Sandman series and Neverwhere. I haven’t gotten to the former yet (still working my way through the Scott Pilgrim series, and I don’t like to read two similar things at the same time; by similar, it’s purely that they’re both graphic novels), but I grabbed Neverwhere and clipped it out in a few days (impressive when you consider how obscenely busy I’ve been over those few days; actually, it’s a testament to the book because I was reading instead of working in the evenings).
This gets us to the book.
It’s billed as a modern (well, 20 years ago it was modern) take on Alice in Wonderland. Having never read those books (though I have seen the Disney movies), I can’t really do much with the comparison.
I honestly can’t compare the book with much of anything else. The most interesting part was knowing that there was a TV show that the book was acting as a companion to, so I was mentally trying to figure out what they TV show’s pacing and episode endings were based on the chapters.
There are a few spots that seemed blatantly purposed for a TV show. They still worked for a book, but they didn’t have the same feel that you would have for a plot twist in a book. They felt very much geared toward bringing a TV audience back the next week, whereas a book just needs you to keep turning pages. A plot twist can be figured out in a few minutes in a book, but a TV show needs bigger twists to get you to tune in the next week.
The story follows our protagonist as his mundane life is taken away because he was trying to be a nice person (pro tip: being nice means your life will be put in danger). The other key characters to know going in is the sort-of damsel in distress he was trying to help (she’s more than capable on her own, but that’s the closest description I have for her) and the shady accomplice she enlists to help her on her adventure (in addition to taking on the protagonist as a member of the team). There are also some supernaturally creepy henchmen who provide comic relief as they eviscerate other characters (actually, I think they never actually eviscerate anyone, but they really wanted to).
The good guys try to avoid the henchmen, and it’s abundantly clear throughout that the henchmen are going to catch them (it’s also abundantly clear the good guys will win, but you want to see how).
Gaiman does a fantastic job of laying out plot elements in a way that is both subtle (i.e., doesn’t scream, “Pay attention to this seemingly minor thing!”) but also clear (i.e., really more of a whisper, “You should probably pay attention to this, but if you don’t, that’s ok.”). Some authors clobber you over the head with minor details that are purely there to set up a later element. Some don’t tell you what they did at all. Gaiman strikes a good balance.
It’s sort of like the difference between cats and dogs who always seem to be in the room with you. Dogs will be in the same room and make it abundantly clear they’re there for you. Cats will always be in the same room but they like to pretend it has nothing to do with you. This is what Gaiman does. You know why he did it, but he’s not in your face about it.
The book’s an adventure. It has the appropriate plot twists, foreshadowings, etc. And it’s got it’s humor, even as someone is about to be crucified. It’s definitely worth a read if that’s your cup of tea. If not, you just read a thousand words related to a book you’re not going to read. Was that really a good use of your time?