Sadly, I just finished reading Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman. I say “sadly” because it was such a great book I just didn’t want it to end. I’m a sucker for sci-fi and fantasy that creates detailed and convincing parallel worlds filled with richly developed characters, and Neverwhere is definitely among the best. It’s superficially the story of an average guy in his early twenties trying to make his way in the world when, because of his innate goodness, he gets sucked into the parallel world of “London below” where he accompanies his new friend through a series of challenges in order to answer the question of who killed her family and possibly to avenge their deaths. It sounds complicated, because it is, but the plot is definitely not the book’s strength. No, Neverwhere has instantly taken its place on my best-books-of-all-time shelf because its characters are so well-developed and because the world through which they move is so creative and fascinating. It’s satisfying in the sense that the “good guys” win, but it also leaves open the possibility for further adventures with these characters. In fact, that open possibility is my only criticism of the book—it ends literally with a door open to the next book, so where’s the sequel!? I want more! Yet, as he did with American Gods, Gaiman seems to be content to have written one helluva great book and created one very believable fictional world, and to just leave it at that. I guess it’s understandable in the sense of “why risk ruining such a great thing?” but still, if he ever changes his mind and decides to follow up with either of these books, I will be among the thousands standing in line for one of the first copies.

So what do you think? Have you read Neverwhere? And if yes, do you have suggestions for further reading? If so, please let me know in the comments…

UPDATE: I just finished reading an excerpt from an interview of Neil Gaiman by Claire E White which provides interesting tidbits of information about Neverwhere. It began life as a tv script, but Gaiman decided to make a novel out of it because the production of the television movie wasn’t going the way liked. He then wrote an English version, then a second version for release in the U.S., and a third “international” version that he says contains the most complete story he wanted to tell. What I find most fascinating is that he claims to have started out with only a few rough ideas of what would happen:

When I began the book I had more than the beginning in my head, but not an awful lot more than the beginning. I knew that he was going to stumble across this girl. I knew that truly no good deed would go unpunished. And that he was going to wind up losing his life, his identity and everything else. His fiancée would dump him and… he would very rapidly stop existing as far as everybody else was concerned. I had Mr. Croup and Mr. Vandemar in my head, and the marquis. I figured we’d meet Hunter sooner or later. But that was it. That’s what I had to go on when i started the book and when I stared writing the script. Most everything else turned up along the way. These are the things I discovered as I wrote.

That’s good stuff. So often writers here the advice that they should plan ahead, outline a novel, etc. But here Gaiman is saying he just started w/a few characters and the first chapter or two and the rest just popped up along the way. It gives a sloppy, bad-planning, wannabe writer like me a bit of hope….