Neverwhere was my first real introduction to the world of urban fantasy - a clever take on Alice in Wonderland, one can say, set in the semi-magical, unsubtly dangerous, and quite fantastically warped world of 'London Below'."Young man," he said, "understand this: there are two Londons. There's London Above - that's where you lived - and then there's London Below - the Underside - inhabited by the people who fell through the cracks in the world. Now you're one of them. Good night."Neverwhere is one of my all-time favorite books. It has just the right amount of wild imagination (inexplicably somehow still grounded in firm reality), a healthy dose of absurdity and strangeness, remarkably colorful larger-than-life characters, unforgettable setting that is more of a character than a simple backdrop, and, of course, sufficient amount of lovely dry humor. Besides, there is that certain 'something' in Neil Gaiman's writing that keeps bringing me back to his works - that cleverness, I guess, that boldness in his approach to writing, that apt descriptiveness that burns scenes into your mind without becoming boringly detailed or repetitive, and the bit of mesmerizing darkness he harbors in all of his works, regardless of the theme or target audience.In Neverwhere Gaiman uses the old technique of taking a person belonging to the 'regular' world and throwing them into the midst of a fantastical reality, using the protagonist as our eyes into this world - think of "Alice in Wonderland" or "The Wizard of Oz" or its younger siblings like Miéville's "Un Lun Dun".Richard Mayhew is a timid and perfectly average London guy who suffers from a noticeable lack of figurative backbone - and the only time in his life he does show some of that ill-fated backbone, combined with some very real compassion, he gets himself into trouble that is waaaay over his head. Let Richard tell you about it himself:"Dear Diary," he began. "On Friday I had a job, a fiancée, a home, and a life that made sense. (Well, as much as any life makes sense.) Then I found an injured girl bleeding on the pavement, and I tried to be a Good Samaritan. Now I've got no fiancée, no home, no job, and I'm walking around a couple of hundred feet under the streets of London with the projected life expectancy of a suicidal fruitfly."Unwittinly having thwarted an assassination attempt on a young girl named Door and having helped her because, let's face it, he's basically a decent guy, Richard suddenly finds himself in the London Below - a place for those who no longer belong to the regular 'London Above', a place for those who have slipped through the cracks of ordinary reality. It is a place that exists outside of our conventions of time and space, touching our reality but not quite overlapping it."There are little pockets of old time in London, where things and places stay the same, like bubbles in amber,” she explained. “There’s a lot of time in London, and it has to go somewhere—it doesn’t all get used up at once."“I may still be hung over,” sighed Richard. “That almost made sense.""Just like London Above, London Below is a melting pot - except for this one is for relics and discards and misfits of all kinds of times and legends and beliefs and tales. It is a place for those who fell between the cracks - think of those you usually do not notice even if you walk past them on the street, like the homeless, for instance; they are already invisible to us. It is also a place for those who spent too much time in the company of the supernatural, and for those who don't fit in our world. You can view it as a colorful tapestry - or more aptly, as a dirty filthy rag made of mismatched and threadbare bits and pieces that once were something grand and even now create a mesmerizing albeit puzzling effect through their sheer strangeness and unexpected combination.And it is a place that has teeth and is ready to bite. It is harsh and cruel, full of menacing dangers lurking around every corner. Friends can quickly turn into foes, and promising a favor is a serious thing that can get you far in this world. It takes skill to survive here.And Richard is very much NOT prepared for that."His life so far, he decided, had prepared him perfectly for a job in Securities, for shopping at the supermarket, for watching soccer on the television on the weekends, for turning up the thermostat if he got cold. It had magnificently failed to prepare him for a life as an un-person on the roofs and in the sewers of London, for a life in the cold and the wet and the dark."London Below is a place populated with creatures that have enough color and flair to them to easily stand out against the drab background of life and their surroundings. Of course I'm talking about Marquis here, the not-so-honest and yet brave and loyal (for a reasonable price of a favor) Marquis de Carabas, the guy who you would ultimately want covering your back in a sticky situation (as long as you can overlook the fact that he may have had something to do with creating the said sticky situation in the first place!)"He..." Richard began. "The marquis. Well, you know, to be honest, he seems a little bit dodgy to me."Door stopped. The steps dead-ended in a rough brick wall. "Mm," she agreed. "He's a little bit dodgy in the same way that rats are a little bit covered in fur."With characters like Marquis, or the enigmatic single-minded Hunter, or pretty much anyone Richard comes in contact with in this weird mixture of rooftops and sewers and underground tunnels, London Below is a confusing blur to Richard's tired and overwhelmed senses. Some things don't make sense. Others make way too much sense, are way too literal (Earl's Court or Knightsbridge, for instance). He is so out of place here, it's almost painful to read, as you wince and cringe at his pathetic attempts to clutch to what he continues to view as safety and sanity. And no, this sanity does not normally involve girls named Door or a charming scoundrel Marquis de Carabas, or Angel Islington, or outwordly hired thugs Croup and Vandemar, or Rat Speakers, or Beast of London, or the real Old Bailey, or the nonexistent British Museum underground station where Earl's Court can get you if you so please. "Richard did not believe in angels, he never had. He was damned if he was going to start now. Still, it was much easier not to believe in something when it was not actually looking directly at you and saying your name."But eventually Richard may, just may, start discovering something about himself that is a bit more adjusted in the world that has slipped through the cracks than "real" London. In other words, Richard Mayhew just may have gone native. Unlike Dorothy and her Toto, he may not want to just live happily ever after in his version of Kansas."Metaphors failed him, then. He had gone beyond the world of metaphor and simile into the place of things that *are*, and it was changing him."After all, haven't we all at some point asked a question about what is the meaning of all that we are doing? Haven't we always wondered whether there ay be something else we may be better suited to be and do? Haven't we wanted to escape somewhere... well... else? Different? Isn't that some of the reasons we wan t to immerse ourselves into worlds of fantasy at least for a short while?"Work. Home. The pub. Meeting girls. Living in the city. Life. Is that all there is?"Usually, however, the point is to return home, enriched by experiences of the outwordliness, and, of course, gain some appreciation for the life we used to take for granted before. Because, of course, no matter how much we want to, we will never escape the real life. Or can we? After reading this book, I know I would want to, had I been in Richard's place. But I cannot, and so I appreciate my mundane uneventful life - but what if I didn't have to? Who knows........................"The marquis de Carabas raised an eyebrow. "Well?" he said, irritably. "Are you coming?"Richard stared at him for a heartbeat.Then Richard nodded, without trusting himself to speak, and stood up. And they walked away together through the hole in the wall, back into the darkness, leaving nothing behind them; not even the doorway."