Origami Girl

Tuesday, 18 March 2014

In which I visit an Imagined London (Part 2)

Last week I announced that I am going to do a series of book reviews of fantasy books set in London, to help me get to know the city. You can read my last one looking at the Rivers of London books and The Borribles here.

Thicker Than Water
Mike Carey

I recently read Thicker Than Water, diving into Mike Carey's Felix Castor series. Felix Castor is an exorcist in an otherwise recognisable London landscape. He's not an evil child-attacking exorcist though. In fact one of his friends is a succubus. What he is really is something like a noir detective. All bad language and grittiness, but a heart deep down. These books have a number of similarities to the Rivers of London books and so was a strange read after the latest Ben Aaronovitch, as it was also centred around a tower block in South London. One in which a lot of strange incidents and sharp violence are taking place, which seem to relate to Felix's family and to the Anathemata, the excommunicated militant arm of the Catholic church.

What did I learn about London?
London has some really weird tower blocks. When I finally watch Attack the Block I am sure my opinion of that will be confirmed. Well, maybe. I don't feel like I got a particular grip on one area of London as with some of the others. The hospital, his house, and the block are the main locations so it didn't dive into as much detail about other London locations. It did give a general feel of South London atmosphere, but no new places I am itching to explore.

Review: I've got mixed feelings about this book. Firstly, I don't usually read horror, so this is something of a foray into unknown territory for me. However, I found the gruesome parts of the story more bearable than I expected. They are quite well built up, so as to not seem out of place in the narrative, but also appropriately shocking. I felt a sense of affection for the main character's determination and his general idiotic levels of courage. However, the truth is that his lesbian succubus friend Juliet was a much more interesting character altogether. The book felt a little too male. It's hard to define that, but Felix's general rudeness and closed nature, disagreeing and stomping, sulking, with all the people trying to help him; it was a bit frustrating. Sometimes I was just thinking 'Jeez Castor! Would hurt you to just say thanks one time?'. The books are doing something fun with the London setting which is what I am looking for, but there's a little too much noir caricature in the drawing of Felix to make me reach for the next one.

I will say this as a side point: I really like Mike Carey's work usually. I wrote about meeting him before and I am a fan of his Lucifer series, and the Unwritten. His latest book 'The Girl with all the Gifts' is the best thing he's written so far, and my husband places it in his top ten. So despite not loving these, please don't write him off.

Neil Gaiman

Neverwhere is a Gaiman classic. It's existed in many iterations: tv series, radio drama, graphic novel, and a good old paperback. Feel free to try any of these and the story is always good. Neverwhere is the story of Richard Mayhew, an ordinary young businessman who makes a life-changing decision to stop and look after an injured girl on the street. Upon doing so he ceases to exist in our work and becomes an unwilling citizen of London Below. He then travels through this new hidden version of our London to find a way to take his identity back, and to help Door avoid the assassins.

'Neil Gaiman's Neverwhere' by JulietteArda, on Deviant Art.

What I learnt about London
The best thing for me in this book is the way Neil Gaiman plays with London locations. There really is an Angel, Islington. Knightsbridge, is now Night's Bridge. You don't want to mess with the Shepherds at Shepherd's Bridge. And “Mind the Gap” has never sounded so sinister. For me that last phrase makes me smile every time I hear it on the Underground, as I look into that space between the platform and the train and imagine what horror lurks there. Tube rides pass through so many Neverwhere locations, so it at the least taught me a lot names of tube stops and gave them each something to associate with. Plus a few art exhibits and paintings mentioned that I'd like to go look at.
I found this picture of Deviant Art, and it is the best portrayal of Door as she is in my head. 

As urban fantasy goes Neverwhere is an instant classic. It creates a setting in which the borders between the a parallel London and ours bleed seamlessly. It's easy to imagine that for some people when the doors open on the Underground, they are getting off a stop you can't see. The characters are also wonderfully rich, especially full of detail in their styling and clothes. I even picture Door's hair and Islington's sneer. Gaiman has these characters very solidly built. I have read this book many times, and whilst it is not my favourite book of his (I'm a Sandman girl) there is nothing he writes badly. If you want to join me in fantasy London reading, it wouldn't be a bad place to start. 

To link these nicely together Neil Gaiman did say that the Borribles (of last week) was a big influence on his Neverwhere. They both really like to make rats a thing...

I hope you are enjoying these reviews! Have you read either of these? Do you have a favourite version of Neverwhere? Do you have any urban fantasy you recommend?


  1. I must admit that urban fantasy is not a genre that I'm familiar with but these books sure looks promising. I would like to read Neverwhere, I hope I manage to find it in my library.

    Lovely reviews!

  2. Awesome! I think you just turned me unto reading one of these books now.


  3. the picture looks amazing!


  4. I loved Neverwhere - just brilliant. As you say, one of the best things about it is the way Gaiman plays with the The London locations, especially when one is already familiar with London itself. I was sad to have missed the radio 4 adaptation that was broadcast a while back - did you hear it?
    Also, so pleased that you hunted out the Royal Bodies piece by Hilary Mantel. I'm in awe of her non-fiction as well as her fiction.

  5. These are so far from the type of book I like to read but they sound so very cool!

  6. The only fantasy I've read so far are books by Terry Pratchett and "The Witcher series" :D Really looking for some good ones, so I'm going to check out your reviewed ones :D Keep up the good work!

  7. Ey Origami sweet girl!
    I love the comment that you left on my blog, it makes me really happy. Everything that you said about me is actually true, I really feel comfortable on my self. You have great sense for empathy.
    But I must say I have the same feeling with you. Your taste is not mainstream at all but you feel really proud of your Lego landscapes (and the rest things that you like). And I love this from you! I love that you share your peculiar taste and hobbies. You are self-confident and original!
    You probably make us enjoy what we often thing that we don't enjoy.

    About the books that you share here I have to read some. My fantasy literature stopped after Harry Potter, and sometimes I miss this kind of dreamworlds. I usually read realistic novels which contains philosophical conclusions.
    By the way, I just make a post where I recommended a couple of books. Maybe you are interested in some realistic but great literature. Come to visit me :)