Not that this author needs it, mind you. This author has an avid fanbase that will follow him wherever he goes, be it writing for TV, For movies, comic books...and yes, books! This is Neil Gaiman's Neverwhere.
So here's an interesting story for you: Un Lun Dun, last week's showcase, was written over 10 years after Neverwhere came to be (Neverwhere was actually a TV show at first, but this novelization went on to have much more success). So I read Neverwhere back in 2008, followed a few years later by Un Lun Dun. But it was pure coincidence I ended up reading both: when I picked up China Mieville's novel I had no idea that Un Lun Dun had been heavily inspired by Neverwhere. Both of them center around this idea of an 'other' London, a warped mirror image of the English capital city. And just like Un Lun Dun, Neverwhere constructs it's dark tale with expertise, perhaps even more so.
So here's the story: Richard Mayhew, having recently moved to London, is as normal as normal gets. He works, he lives, he loves. But after helping out a girl on the street, he finds that his simple act of kindness turns his life upside down. Mysteriously, he seems to be invisible: nobody at work responds to him, and strangers are moving into his apartment. The girl, called Door, and a host of other wild, weird and sinister characters seep into Richard's life, plunging him into London Below - a place between the cracks of reality where Angels and monks roam, Knight's bridge is an actual bridge guarded by Knights, and folk worship rats.
While I love Un Lun Dun just as much as Neverwhere, I must concede that Neverwhere is the more accomplished and impactful of the two. For one, while I would dock Un Lun Dun points for being a bit of a rollercoaster that doesn't stop and take a breath more than it should, Neverwhere also hurtles along at breakneck speed. However, that fast pace works in Neverwhere's favor because it really makes you empathize with Richard who is as bewildered by it all, along with the reader. This make's Richard's growth throughout the story and his growing confidence in the world of London Below that much more satisfying because of it.
Which brings me nearly onto the second reason: characters. Whereas I felt the characters in Un Lun Dun were a bit flat and served mainly as a vehicle to push through the plot (a most excellent plot, mind you), Neverwhere's characters really carry the story. As eccentric as Door and the Marquis may be at first, there's a real sense of history and meaningful motives to these people, and whenever I recall my time Neverwhere it is usually the characters that first jump to my mind.
But again, Neverwhere's greatest strength is the same as Un Lun Dun: the atmosphere. You can almost smell this dark, grungy London Below, such is Gaiman's skill at evoking a mood. And Gaiman some times swings for the very dark indeed. It never feels cheap though: the grotesque feels in place, appropriate and well earned.
Neverwhere is a fantastic book, remarkable really considering it was still early in Gaiman's career at that point. His enthusiastic fanbase is absolutely justified.