Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Audiobook Review: Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman

Book Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars

Audiobook Rating: 5 out of 5 Stars (Highest Rating)

Bottom Line: This book delivers an imaginative and engaging urban fantasy tale kicked up to the next level by Gaiman’s narration.

This story originated as a six-part television series that aired on BBC in 1996 and Gaiman later adapted it to a novel form which followed the series pretty closely and also expanded on the story in some parts.  It involves a man name Richard Mayhew--an average, up-and-coming, middle-class British chap--who finds himself dragged into the mysterious world of “London Below”.  That is a setting, mostly beneath the streets of “London Above”, where people who have “slipped through the cracks” live in a semi-Medieval, feudal-like existence.  Mayhew joins up with a girl named Door, who can open any door or lock, and a man known as the Marquis de Carabas, who procures favors from those who he encounters, and finds himself reluctantly pulled into a battle with a fallen angel.

I first encountered the television series version of this story when I ordered the DVDs during my early days with Netflix (long before they had grown into the streaming juggernaut they are now).  As with any British sci fi / fantasy TV series, it had plenty of budget challenges, but I still found myself fascinated with it.  The premise and story itself seemed a bit odd (seemingly romanticizing the homeless as mystical and magical characters), but I was drawn into it mostly on the standout performances of Patterson Joseph as the Marquis and Hywel Bennett and Clive Russell as the nefarious Mr. Croup and Mr. Vandemar.  The characters throughout the story are what stood out the most to me, with those three leaving the strongest impression.  Richard Mayhew basically gives us this tale’s version of Arthur Dent and ends up being one of the weakest from the show (future Doctor Peter Capaldi has a nice turn, though, as the Angel Islington).

Since I had fond memories of the series, I decided to listen to the novelization which Gaiman wrote after the TV series had aired.  I found myself immediately pulled into the story once again, and actually I found that I liked it even better than the TV version.  Gaiman’s masterful prose brings the setting to life much better than the limited TV budget could (he added back many things that the BBC cut from the original script) and his world-building delivers a fully fleshed out universe with a ton of potential (though unfortunately he has only done one more story in this world so far: “How the Marquis Got His Coat Back”).  The romanticizing of the downtrodden people of the city does not come off as creepy here like it did in the series, but the characters still jump off the page just like they jumped off the television screen.  The ending is still a bit disappointing, but the book is worth it for the journey it provides.  Consider this a darker, urban fantasy take on Douglas Adams’ Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy or Dirk Gently books, but not in a derivative way.

As for the audiobook, Neil Gaiman himself provides the narration.  Now I generally say that authors should stick to writing and leaving the voice-work to the professionals, but after listening to this, Gaiman gets added into the exception category along with Harlan Ellison.  His delightful reading enhances his already spot-on writing, and you can tell that he is having a ton of fun with the more colorful characters like the Marquis as well as Croup and Vandemar.  In fact, I would dare to say that he nearly outdoes the already excellent performances delivered by the actors in the TV show.  Gaiman should definitely lend his voice to more audio productions because he surely has a talent for it.  He helps to take this book to the next level and I highly recommend checking this one out in audiobook format as it is a great book that gets the audio treatment it deserves.

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