49. Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman
I've been meaning to read Gaiman for several years now, and I finally did. This was the first Gaiman book that was ever recommended to me, and I borrowed it recently from a friend.
Neverwhere is the under London odyssey of a bumbling British straightman known as Richard Mayhew. He is told to beware of "doors," which take their form as a girl named Door from the underworld, whose family has the power to open anything, and for that are slaughtered, leaving her as the only survivor. She is dogged by malicious henchmen from the underworld known as Croup and Vandemar, and seeks protection from the roguish Marquis de Carabas and legendary bodyguard Hunter. Richard is pulled into her world and must leave his ordinary life behind to help her complete her mission to avenge her family and achieve his own desire to return to normalcy.
Gaiman's writing is undoubtedly the best part of the book, he has a wit and penchant for the absurd that for me was deeply reminiscent of Douglas Adams. I especially enjoyed the descriptions of the floating Market, that re-appears in a different location at appointed times. I suspect the book would also be a lot more entertaining for Londoners, as it creates an entire society that takes place in the Underground system and underneath London. One joke I did get (since it is practically forced down your throat, but..) is that the most frightening part of London under is beneath Kensington, a posh neighborhood in London above.
Probably intentionally, Neverwhere is a very simple quest story, with little attempt to disguise or embellish the classical narrative. We have our Trickster(s), our Animus, Anima, and our underdog hero. In some ways, Door might be considered the hero of the story, but Richard is undoubtedly our protagonist. All in all, Neverwhere would make a fantastic children's story, were it not for a few unfortunate references to adult activities. I'd recommend it to the YA set, but not to readers who prefer more complex material.