I have curled up with many books over the years. Once dusty tomes, these books are now bits and bytes on digital readers or on my computer screen. No matter what the form, books are a part of my life.
In Neverwhere, Neil Gaiman's novelization of a BBC show, there are two Londons: London Above and London Below. London Above is the London we all know, the one filled with Mary Poppins and the Queen and Earl Grey tea and scones. But London Below is wholly different. It's a place where magic is real and danger lurks around every sewer bend.
Richard Mayhew, the hapless narrator, is suffering from ennui. His life is pretty good. He's got a fiancée and a respectable job, and things are progressing in the usual fashion. Even so, something is missing.
One day, he runs across an injured girl on the sidewalk. She's filthy, and no one seems to care. Even though his fiancée protests, he takes the girl to his house to clean her up and tend her wounds. Little does he know that that's the start of everything upending around him.
From that point of the book, there's everything from angels to feathered shop-keeps to a tricky, devilish marquis. In London Below, nothing can be taken at face value.
I love this book. I read it first in middle school, and it was this wonderful, eye-opening experience. I'd read a lot of traditional fantasy at this point, and I was beginning to tire of elves and orcs, but this was the first urban fantasy I'd read. Imagining the magic lurking behind the normal world was exciting, and even as I read the book today, the words enchant me and lead to me to question what's "normal."
Neil Gaiman has a way with words. His prose is both poetic and everyday, resting lightly on the page without turning purple and hard to read. For me, his other books have been hit or miss, but Neverwhere stands as a wholly accessible text, especially for a new reader to urban fantasy.
Due to the fact that Gaiman uses actual places in London to establish the world of London Below, traveling around London while reading Neverwhere is a real treat. I read the book while riding the Circle Line, and seeing the different stops, I was immediately drawn into the more fantastic elements of the world.