BooksOfTheMoon

Neverwhere

By Neil Gaiman

Rating: 4 stars

Richard Mayhew is just an average guy who performs an act of kindness, and, in return, finds himself thrown out of the life he knew, and deep into an underworld, beneath and around his London. He has to help the girl Door to find out who killed her family and perhaps in doing so, can get his life back.

I think this may have been one of the first books I encountered in the “magical London” subgenre. Back then, just after having seen the TV series that it was written alongside, it was new and fresh. It still retains some of that power, although I’m more worldweary of that particular subgenre now (I am totally there, however, for magical Glasgow, of which there is far too little literature). I must confess that I mostly visualise the book through the TV series. In particular, the Beast of London always makes me giggle a bit, as it’s a highland coo in cosplay. Croup and Vandemar, on the other hand, are truly chilling, as portrayed by Hywel Bennett and Clive Russell respectively.

Richard, is our everyman protagonist, and we explore London Below through his eyes, as he first tries desperately to find his way home, and later, as he starts to become accustomed to this new life. What mostly strikes me about Richard is that he is kind, not necessarily a survival trait in this world (or, one might say, if feeling cynical, for a Londoner in general). He got sucked into the world because he couldn’t leave a young woman to bleed out on the street, and all his later actions are also to be seen in this light (when he’s not doing his best Arthur Dent impression of confused bewilderment; at least Richard can get a decent cup of tea).

Door is more a macguffin than a character, although I like both Hunter and the Marquis de Carabas. I’ve already mentioned Croup and Vandemar, who feel like the best characters in the whole book, at times; their somewhat comic exteriors never distracting from the terror that they beget.

It’s not a hugely complex book (certainly nothing compared to, say, Sandman or American Gods) but it’s good old-fashioned hero’s journey, and Richard is a hero you’ll be happy to trod alongside.

Book details

Publisher: Headline Feature
Year of publication: 1996

How the Marquis Got His Coat Back (Rogues, #18)

By Neil Gaiman

Rating: 4 stars

I’d been wanting to read this short story after reading Neverwhere, for a while but was never able to find it, so I was chuffed when I found this little hard copy in Waterstones for a couple of quid. The story is fairly slight (the premise is entirely described by the title) but it was nice to revisit the world of London Below again. We get a bit more insight into the Marquis de Carabas and are also introduced to his brother, Peregrine who’s awfully intriguing. Gaiman also shows more of his world, with the Elephant and Castle and the frankly terrifying Shepherds of Shepherd’s Bush.

So a fun story that helps expand the world of London Below and is well worth a read.

Book details

ISBN: 9781472235329
Publisher: Headline
Year of publication: 2014

Midnight Days

By Neil Gaiman

Rating: 4 stars

This graphic novel collects six of Neil Gaiman’s early comics work for DC. Of the six stories in the collection, there are three that are from different aspects of Swamp Thing, one Hellblazer, one Sandman and a little framing story for another collection.

I’m not hugely familiar with Swamp Thing so I perhaps didn’t get as much out of those stories as someone more familiar with the mythos. The first, Jack in the Green shows a Swamp Thing somewhere in England when the Black Death is sweeping the land as he tends to a dying friend. Even without knowing much about about the character or history, you can relate to that. The second Brothers is an odd little story that does rely more on DC/Swamp Thing continuity, telling the story of a living puppet who falls to earth from a satellite. Even without knowing the history though, there’s enough human stories – with hippy Chester and his damaged partner Liz; and with bitter government agent Gideon Endor – to hold interest. Shaggy God Stories on the other hand, seems to be an interlude between two big stories and I don’t think I got an awful lot out of it.

Moving away from Swamp Thing, the next story in the collection Hold Me which is a touching Hellblazer story, where John Constantine encounters a dead man who just wants someone to, well, hold him. The penultimate story, Sandman Midnight Theatre sees the single meeting between Dream of the Endless and Wesley Dodds, another character to bear the name ‘Sandman’. Set on the eve of WW2, Wesley Dodds is drawn to England after the suicide of an old friend, and finds himself investigating the Order of Ancient Mysteries, who still hold Morpheus in a glass box. The collection is finished off with a little framing story for a horror anthology called Welcome Back to the House of Mystery featuring the Cain and Abel who live in the Dreaming. Very much more cartoony in tone than the rest of the book, it’s an odd choice to finish the volume, but not necessarily an inappropriate one.

The art throughout is lovely, Gaiman can always find good artists to work with him; the painted, appropriately dreamlike, art for Sandman Midnight Theatre especially drew my eye. A lot of this is fairly early work by Gaiman so it isn’t always the most polished, but it all has heart and the storytelling confidence that marks his work. Even if you’re not familiar with the characters within, the stories are (mostly) able to hold their own.

Book details

ISBN: 9781401265014
Publisher: DC Comics
Year of publication: 2000

The Doll’s House (The Sandman, #2)

By Neil Gaiman

Rating: 5 stars

With volume two, Gaiman starts to hit his stride with Sandman. The general plot of this book concerns a vortex forming within the Dreaming, something which could destroy it, and what Morpheus has to do to stop it. But it’s also about desire (or should that be Desire?) and what it can make you do. About twisted dreams and lost loves and what makes a friendship. Lots of elements, all interwoven.

First time round, the Hob Gadling story seemed oddly out of place in the middle of the rest, but reading it again, and knowing the rest of the story, it seems to fit much better. It must have been a really odd thing to encounter if you were reading it month by month when it was originally published though.

Book details

ISBN: 9780930289591
Publisher: Vertigo
Year of publication: 1990

The Sandman, Vol. 01: Preludes & Nocturnes (The Sandman #1)

By Neil Gaiman

Rating: 4 stars

It’s been a while since I’ve read the Sandman books, but I’ve just finished The Sandman: Overture and that made me want to reread these again. So much of my memory contains the series as a whole that you forget that the story started off relatively small-scale. The lord of dreams was captured in 1916 and held for 70-odd years before he managed to get free, went about taking revenge and recovering the tools that had been taken from him.

Coming straight out of Sandman Overture the art, while definitely attractive, feels a bit scratchy (although they had much more time for Overture, with a 6-issue series taking two years, rather than a strict monthly schedule like the original series), although Dave McKean’s covers were as gorgeous then as they are now.

I said the story was small scale earlier. That’s not entirely true, as Dream does go to Hell at one point, to recover his stolen helm and we have our first encounter with Lucifer Morningstar, who would go on to star in his own series. At this stage, Gaiman didn’t have his own clear vision for the series, so we see ties to the wider DC universe as John Constantine, the Martian Manhunter and other elements from the wider superhero universe show up. These don’t really recur once the series hits its stride but do serve to remind the reader that the Dream and the Endless are part of a shared universe.

The third-last chapter, 24 Hours, is a difficult one to read. It’s pure horror as customers in a diner are made into puppets to be the plaything of John Dee, who had stolen Dream’s jewel, the last, and most powerful, of his tools. Dream himself doesn’t appear in this chapter until the very end and we’re left seeing people being made to do terrible things to each other as the madman watches. Like I say, it’s a difficult one to read, even if you suspect that he’s not going to win – that’s no consolation for the people who’s lives are destroyed or who are killed before Dee is stopped.

The final chapter introduces us to one of the most popular (with good reason) characters in the Sandman canon: Dream’s older sister, Death. This isn’t the dark-robed scythe-wielder of popular myth but a cute goth girl who always has good advice and is always there for her younger brother. Bizarrely, she always brightens up the page when she appears and her presence and advice make for a great epilogue to this first volume.

Book details

Publisher: Vertigo
Year of publication: 1989

The Sandman: Overture

By Neil Gaiman

Rating: 3 stars

In this prelude to Gaiman’s masterpiece, we learn why Dream was so weak that Roderick Burgess was able to capture him at the beginning of Preludes and Nocturnes. A star has gone mad, the result of something that Morpheus left undone a long time ago, and now he must repair the damage and stop the madness spreading and destroying the universe.

The art in the book is really lovely. The book is a stunning artwork in its own right and it has the feel of the dreamtime about it. It puts you in the right mood for the story. The story itself is suitably epic in scale and mythic in tone. The idea of sentient stars put me in mind of Stapledon’s Star Maker and the meeting of the different aspects of Dream (across a stunning four-page spread) is a wonderful scene.

I would say that this is a book to definitely come back and read after having read the story proper. There are spoilers for Sandman, and lots of references that can’t be appreciated unless you’re familiar with the main story, as well as cameos from some of Dream’s family and other characters from the Dreaming and beyond. So although you could read it before the main story, you’ll get the most out of it if you read it afterwards.

One thing I thought worked less well was the introduction of yet another layer of mythic entities. The First Circle seems unnecessary, except as a way to provide exposition and the idea of the Endless having parents also seemed unnecessary, especially as they didn’t really do very much.

So very pretty, enjoyable but not exactly essential. It has made me want to go back and re-read Sandman though.

Book details

ISBN: 9781401248963
Publisher: DC Vertigo
Year of publication: 2015

Trigger Warning: Short Fictions and Disturbances

By Neil Gaiman

Rating: 4 stars

This is Neil Gaiman’s third collection of short stories. He addresses the controversial title in his introduction but since I don’t feel that I have the appropriate background for this, I’m not going to comment, one way or the other on that. The collection did seem skewed towards the dark and the macabre, with especially the first few stories being a bit grim, but there are enough points of light in there to not make reading it a slog for someone like me, who likes their fiction a bit fluffier.

Highlights include The Truth is a Cave in the Black Mountains… about a small man on a quest and the companion he takes with him; The Case of Death and Honey, Gaiman’s ‘Sherlock Holmes’ story which is a lot of fun; ‘And Weep, Like Alexander’, a story from a ‘shaggy dog’ anthology of the Tales from the White Hart mould; and The Sleeper and the Spindle, which mashes together some well-known fairy tales in a new and interesting way. There was also the unexpected pleasure of another ‘Shadow’ story (the protagonist of American Gods). Since the last one (in Fragile Things) he’s moved on from Scotland to Yorkshire, where he has another ‘unusual’ encounter. In the introduction to the story Gaiman says that he thinks there will be one more Shadow short, probably set in London, before he gets packed off back to America and another novel, which would be good.

I think A Calendar of Tales merits more discussion than just a one-liner as it’s a very interesting project in its own right: 12 flash fiction stories based on the answers to questions about the calendar that Gaiman asked on Twitter. The website is great, but I would definitely pay money to hold this in my hands, with dedicated artwork (something that’s already been done for The Truth is a Cave in the Black Mountains… and The Sleeper and the Spindle).

I liked this collection a lot. It’s not as good, in my mind, as Smoke and Mirrors, but it’s definitely better than Fragile Things. It’s classic Gaiman and is both a good introduction for newbies to Gaiman’s writing and for established fans. Oh, and it also continues his tradition of hiding stories in the book’s introduction.

Book details

ISBN: 9781472217721
Publisher: Headline
Year of publication: 2015

Anansi Boys

By Neil Gaiman

Rating: 3 stars

When Fat Charlie Nancy’s father dies, he finds out that his father was a god and that he had a brother he didn’t know about. And that makes his world much more interesting, and much more dangerous.

This is a much more whimsical book than American Gods, with whom it shares a universe and one character (Mr Nancy/Anansi, Charlie’s father, whose death kicks off events). Whereas that was deep and brimming with mythology, this feels much lighter, more like a good old-fashioned story without as much going on underneath. There was a lot of humour in it, of a style that reminded me a lot of Good Omens, but without the lightness of touch ( Terry Pratchett’s influence?) that made that book such a joy to read. It sounds like I’m being negative, but it’s just that I expect great things of Gaiman and this is, IMO, just good. Fat Charlie is a decent enough character and I really felt for him when the whirlwind of his brother, Spider, came into his life. For a while, it seemed like it would just be Spider tormenting Charlie, but the tone shifts later in the book, as the events driving things start to come to the fore.

The focus here is on African folklore, in the way that it was Norse mythology that drove American Gods and while this is less familiar to me than the latter, Gaiman handles it well enough that what you need to know is explained in the text, so you don’t feel like you’re floundering. That the story is reasonably lightweight helps in this regard too.

So this is an entertaining read in an unfamiliar (to me) mythology and definitely lighter than some of Gaiman’s other work. Worth a read, but I wouldn’t put it at the top of my pile.

Book details

ISBN: 9780060515195
Publisher: HarperCollins HarperTorch
Year of publication: 2005

American Gods (American Gods, #1)

By Neil Gaiman

Rating: 4 stars

A few days before he’s let out of jail, Shadow’s wife Laura dies in a car crash. Numbly, he tries to return home and get on with his life, but he meets a stranger on the journey, who offers him a job. With nothing to stay for, he accepts, and begins a journey through the heart of America, and into the oncoming storm.

This is possibly the most ‘Neil Gaiman-y’ of Nail Gaiman’s books. It’s about mythology, belief, gods and monsters, what it means to be human, and more. Shadow is a sympathetic protagonist, although he can be passive at times. He accepts the world of mythology and gods he’s been thrown into with barely a quizzical eyebrow, but he still has agency when it matters and his actions drive the plot forward.

The writing is very pleasurable to read as well. I’ve always been a fan of that, and while it’s no Ray Bradbury in my book, I do enjoy the cadence of Gaiman’s prose and his choice of words is evocative.

If you’re new to Gaiman’s work, this is probably a good place to start into his body of work. It’s very typical of his work and rich enough that you’ll know after you’re finished it whether to read any more of his work, without needing the commitment of something like the Sandman series.

Book details

ISBN: 9780747263746
Publisher: Headline Review
Year of publication: 2001

The Ocean at the End of the Lane

By Neil Gaiman

Rating: 4 stars

Despite being told through the eyes of a child, this is very much not a children’s book, with a lot of quite dark imagery and musings on life, death and childhood terror. The central theme, as Gaiman discusses in an interview at the end of the book, is to do with childhood powerlessness. Our nameless protagonist’s world changes when their lodger steals their car, drives it to the end of the lane and commits suicide in it. This leads to him meeting Lettie Hempstock and her family, and gets involved with creatures and forces from beyond the boundaries of creation. But also leads to him getting involved in things he doesn’t and can’t understand or control. Whether it’s his father’s anger or a creature that wants to tear him from reality, it’s about the power of adults over children.

It’s not a long book, but it has some complexity and will benefit from rereading. But for the moment, it’s given me a lot to think about. Gaiman’s on good form with this one.

Book details

ISBN: 9781472200341
Publisher: Headline Review (Hachette)
Year of publication: 2013

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