Creating Scary Antagonists and the Anti-Hero | Learning from ‘Neverwhere’

Author Neil Gaiman

This post does not contain any spoilers.

Genre – Dark, urban fantasy

This book was written while Gaiman was writing for a BBC television show of the same name and was first published in 1997. This edition is his ‘preferred text’ and is the first Neil Gaiman book I have read.

Book Blurb

…Slipping through the cracks of reality, Richard lands in the Neverwhere–a London of shadows and darkness, monsters and saints, murderers and angels that exists entirely in a subterranean labyrinth…

Although, the blurb is much longer than what I included above, I found this line gives the gist of the book. This was Gaiman’s first novel and it is the first of ten successful fantasy books that he wrote for adults. He’s also written books for ‘all ages’ as well.

 First Line

Prologue: The night before he went to London, Richard Mayhew was not enjoying himself.

Chapter 1: She had been running for days now, a harum-scarum tumbling flight through passages and tunnels.

The first sentence of the short prologue sets Richard up as the antihero. He is a man who is not someone to take charge or take risks. He reminds me of Arthur Dent in The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, a blank protagonist. Is this a British thing? He also refuses to see the facts in front of him because of their implausibility. In fact, one of the best lines of the book displayed Richard’s stubbornness–or more likely, his ineptitude. One of the characters says this to Richard:

What a refreshing mind you have, young man… There really is nothing like total ignorance is there?

The character voiced my feelings about Richard perfectly. It is a fine balance between having your main character accept things too readily and making him annoying in his denial. It is something that I struggle with in my writing.

Neverwhere1However, Richard does go against his fiancee’s wishes when he helps a homeless girl who is obviously hurt quite badly. This is the plot point that sets Richard’s adventure into motion. But his whining about losing his shallow, cold-hearted finacee, after she dumped him for missing an important dinner with her boss, grew quite annoying. At first it made it hard to like him, even though he did show fortitude and kindness in taking care of the homeless girl.

The first sentence of Chapter 1 starts off with action, but the scene is only one paragraph long, and Gaiman does not explain who ‘she’ is until later. The very next paragraph is a new scene with the two antagonists.

The antagonists, Mr. Croup and Mr. Vandemar, are terrifyingly capable and merciless. The places that they frequent are disgusting in themselves, and Gaiman takes great pains to describe them. I usually skip over descriptions that are overly long, but Gaiman’s descriptions are so original, I read them carefully to create a picture in my mind.

An entire ecology had evolved around the ornamental fountain in the center of the well, which had for a long time been neither particularly ornamental nor a fountain. A cracked and leaking water pipe nearly had, with the aid of some rainwater, transformed it into a breeding ground for a number of little frogs who plopped about cheerfully, rejoicing in their freedom from any non-airborne natural predators. Crows and blackbirds and even occasional seagulls, on the other hand, regarded the place as a cat-free delicatessen with a special on frogs.

The capability of the antagonists is displayed so well that you really fear for the main character and cringe when they do meet up. Gaiman did a fantastic job with them. However, at one point, he ratchets down the tension when the antagonists have their ‘hands tied’ by their boss. He might have had to do that because the antagonists were so formidable compared to Richard. However, I did appreciate the reprieve. I actually remember sighing with relief.

It took me awhile to start rooting for Richard and the secondary characters. The magic system is solid, if a little simple. You can see how it was written for BBC; there isn’t anything in the book that would require a much special effects.

Overall, the book is quite good, but you have to remember it was written 20 years ago, when writing styles were different. The story is told from an omnipresent point of view, so there is some head hopping happening, but Gaiman makes it very clear whose point of view it is.

I am curious to find out if Gaiman’s writing style has changed over the years. I look forward to finding out.


8 thoughts on “Creating Scary Antagonists and the Anti-Hero | Learning from ‘Neverwhere’

    • Julia says:

      More than likely it has. I know I just loved the movie Stardust… I’ll have to check when he wrote that. Maybe that will be my next one… I might go for his latest though.

      Liked by 1 person

  1. Sparkyjen says:

    I love watching BBC movies. The British put out stellar stuff in my opinion. Until reading your review however, I hadn’t realized how few books I’ve read with a British slant. I did do Girl or a Train last year, and it took a while. Ended up being worth my patience. I wonder if I could get through this one, or if I’d need the visual compliment to help me? It doesn’t sound dull, just wordy and like I’m being right now too opinionated. I love to like the characters, and I read that the main one here is not the most likable. I guess he’s too whiny or something. What a whiny man? No way [chuckle]! A fantasy novel you say? I’m still getting my head around the fantasy part. Should I be suspending something to really get into it or no?

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply to Julia Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s