Two and a half stars, read in October 2017.
Eh. This book has a great premise, and Gaiman is surprisingly good at narrating his own book, though I can’t figure out how he sounds exactly the same whether I’m listening at regular speed, 1.2x times it, or even 1.4x. (Have to admit, I ended up at 1.6x because I was just ready for it to be done.) But I was never drawn in; it felt like I was walking on a puddle rather than being immersed in a pool, which is what you really want, especially with fantasy.
As I said, the premise is excellent: an entire London beneath the real one, a dark, magical underworld that you only get to by “falling through the cracks” of society. But as the story goes, it’s your average totally unspecial white male protagonist thrown into someone else’s quest, which somehow results in endless glory and rewards for him despite his having done nothing but survive thanks to the cast of competent minority characters who surround and look after him. Nor did I appreciate the way Jessica’s character seemed to be a sort of dumping ground for every shitty behavior or trait that didn’t have anywhere else to be; the fact that she’s a terrible person is never once commented on, and we’re just supposed to see her shallow, heartless self-centeredness as representative of how empty Richard’s life was in London Above.
Spoilers in the next paragraph:
That whole “master of the key” business, just because he happened to go last in the three challenges none of them knew were challenges, which happened only because no one expected him to be asked anything at all, because of the three he was the only one who had no skills or idea what was going on—and that whole “you’re the hunter” business, because he “killed” the beast, which no he did not, not any more than the actual Hunter did, because she set everything up, provided him with the weapon, told him exactly what to do, and sacrificed herself—to atone for her betrayal in a way that it seems like only female characters ever have to do—but also to provide the distraction that is the only possible way he could ever have not died in that situation, much less been successful at killing it.
So, yeah, sure, give it a shot if you’re into fantasy; it’s an interesting enough story and fairly amusing at times. There’s nothing to hate, really, but this book is about as special as its protagonist. I will absolutely be trying at least one more of Gaiman’s books, because I’ve been meaning to read them for a long time. But for my first, this one was pretty underwhelming.