Neverwhere, by Neil Gaiman (1996)
One night, while Richard Mayhew and his fiancée are travelling to dinner with her boss, they come across a strange young woman, named Door, bleeding on the pavement. Taking her back to his apartment to recuperate, he quickly finds himself disconnected from the London he knows: people don’t notice him, ATMs refuse to read his debit card, and his apartment is even rented out while he’s in the bath! It soon comes to light that Door is a part of London Below, a strange world co-existing with Richard’s London, where people tend to ‘fall through the cracks’. By helping Door, Richard has made himself part of London Below too.
The problem is, Door is searching for information on who ordered her family to be killed while still on the run from their assassins. But with no other recourse, Richard is forced to join Door and her companions, the Marquis de Caraberas and the bodyguard Hunter. They only have one clue leading them, left by Door’s late father: Find the angel Islington.
Neverwhere is Neil Gaiman’s first foray into novel writing, having previously been known for the graphic novel series Sandman, and it is a story rich with details. Gaiman’s propensity for dark humour is in full force here, as there are places such as Earl’s Court, a subway car where a medieval Earl does indeed hold court; a monastery of Black Friars exists; and Night’s Bridge is a mysterious and slightly feared bridge. For those without extensive knowledge of the London subway system, those names might not have the impact they would to a native Londoner, as they are all based off of subway station names. The book provides a map of the London Underground in that case.
Though this is not the typical high fantasy most might think of when they hear the genre, Neverwhere is an excellent example of urban fantasy – where fantastical elements and mundane collide. Gaiman’s writing is relatively fast-paced, with a layer of whodunit mystery on top of it all. It is a skilful blend of genres, and might be enjoyed by those who enjoy urban fantasy.
If you liked this book, you might also like…
King Rat, by China Miéville: a fantastical book set in modern-day London, it blends many magical, mythological, and modern elements in the same way Neverwhere does.
Un Lun Dun by China Miéville: though this book is young adult, it contains many themes similar to Neverwhere, replete with an alternate London. With an engaging world and lively prose, this would also be recommended even if the genre isn’t the exact same.
Winter’s Tale, by Mark Helprin: set in a fantastical New York, it has the same urban fantasy elements as Neverwhere. Tonally it is similar to Neverwhere.
A Madness of Angels by Kate Griffin: fantasy in the modern day, it follows an “urban sorceror” around an alternate London. Has many of the same fantastical-meets-modern elements that permeate Neverwhere.