Details: (c) 1996, 1997, 2000 Neil Gaiman; Pub 2000 Headline Book Publishing; ISBN 0-7472-6668-9
Verdict: Neverwhere is fantastic, in both senses of the word!
Reasons for reading it: It's by Neil Gaiman, how could I resist? And it kept me going while I was travelling back and forth across SE England this week.
How it came into my hands: The ducky little Brittle Bone charity shop just round the corner from my flat, which has recently diversified into books and has some really good ones.
Neverwhere is just exceedingly cool. It's a romp, delightfully adventuresome, but there's also wonderful characterization and not a word out of place. I mean, it's very, very easy to read, and the language comes across as being simple, but manages to be beautiful without being in the least bit pretentious. And it never takes itself too seriously, there's a lot of sly humour to leaven it.
Then there's all this amazingly detailed and imaginative background which is never at intrusive or infodump-ish. I think Neverwhere comes close to succeeding in what Tolkien set out to do: it creates a specifically English mythology, which is very anchored in place and fits plausibly with mundane reality of modern England. And the reason why it comes close, rather than actually getting there, is that it's mainly a London mythology, and London is of course not the whole of England. But I really think I won't see London the same way again, now I've read this.
Parts of Neverwhere are extremely nasty. The villains, Croup and Vandemar, are so much the embodiment of evil that they should be cartoonish, but because everything is so well conveyed and emotionally engaging, it was hard to detach from the descriptions of torture and so on. I know I'm overly sensitive about explicit violence, but I think Neverwhere is quite extreme even without that.
The counter to all this enthusiasm is that I found the ending really disappointing. In some way, Neverwhere seems to be trying to present itself as a Bildungsroman. But really it has too much action to be a story about the personal development of the protagonist, and a denoument consisting of his reevaluating his life priorities is anticlimactic, to say the least. Plus, he gets to have his cake and eat it to an extent I find annoying, especially since the rest of the book pulls off so exquisitely the delicate trick of being scrupulously fair even in a setting where there is a lot of powerful magic.
Despite these quibbles, I'd thoroughly recommend Neverwhere. Especially to rysmiel; apart from anything else, it has a rather marvellous angel.