by: Neil Gaiman
Published by: HarperTorch 1996

Music to read this book by: Kokopelli's Soul by Johnsy G., Whispermusic.

This is one of those books I can't believe I missed when it was first released, but I'm delighted to have discovered it at all. I devoured it in a couple of days, and was enthralled by the world it introduced me to. I was not surprised to learn that there had been a movie attempt (well, in this case a 6-part BBC made for TV) which was, sadly, badly done. The story is very visual, the characters are highly compelling and interesting, and some of the scenes in the book beg to be rendered on film.

The story follows the unlikely adventures of one Richard Mayhew, an exceedingly ordinary Londoner who, in a fit of humane behavior one evening, rescues a poor injured waif of a girl named Door. Against the strenuous objections of his girlfriend, he takes the girl back to his apartment, and from then on, his life turns an unexpected corner.

After the mysterious departure of the girl, Richard discovers that his former life has vanished and that he is invisible to the ordinary folks around him. On a whim, he goes looking for Door and finds instead London Below. Echoing the names of surface locations, London Below is a fun-house mirror image of London Above, where medievally-ranked lords and ladies are real embodiments of places like Old Bailey (an old man who lives on the rooftops and raises birds) and Islington (an angel).

Now begin a series of wonderful adventures as Richard seeks and finds Door, at first hoping to find a way to right his life, later hoping to find a way to right hers. Turns out, she is underworld royalty of a sort, and possesses the magical ability to open things. If that doesn't sound particularly exciting as contrasted to say, flying, or leaping tall buildings in a single bound, you clearly lack Neil Gaiman's incredible imagination.

Aided by the equivocal and self-named Marquis de Carabas (Puss in Boots, anyone?) and the nobly flawed Hunter, our hero and his lady set out to find a grail of sorts - a key, literally and figuratively to the puzzle.

Our little band struggles against both a mysterious adversary, as well as two of the most bumbling yet horrific villains since Pease, Punch and Mr. Bouncely (if you can tell me the source of that reference, I'll send you a free copy of Neverwhere). Mr. Croup and Mr. Vandemer are nasty devils right out of C. S. Lewis' Screwtape Letters, at once petty and filthy, stupid and malevolent. You can be charmed by their quirkiness, but never for a moment doubt their dangerousness.

In one of the finest moments in the book, Richard undergoes his own agony in the subway, being sorely tempted to believe that all that he has experienced is the product of his own tortured mental state - and as he slips in and out of "clarity," even we begin to wonder what is real, and what is imagination. And we also get a brief but telling glimpse into the probable world of many a street person's mind as they walk the city streets holding animated but imaginary conversations.

I won't give away any more - but you will no doubt be as delighted as I that the author left the, er, door open for the possibility of more adventures beneath the streets of London.


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