Book Review: Neil Gaiman’s ‘Neverwhere’

Neil Gaiman has this uncanny ability to take something you thought you knew like the palm of your hand and twist it, distort it from something as mundane and normal as the daily commute into London and warp it into something brand new and utterly phantasmagorical. A story, seemingly about one man’s experience relocating to the bustling city of London, quickly takes a turn which implores the reader to look between the lines of everyday life, beyond what they think they know and beyond the realms of their comfort zone, and consider what the reality of existence is for those who have ‘fallen through the cracks’. This is a recurring theme of the novel and a mechanism Gaiman implements throughout the story which serves to constantly torment its audience. How are we to know that Gaiman’s fantasy world does not, infact, exist? Only logic and reason stand between us and the belief that London Below really is a vibrant metropolis, just a few paces downwards, underneath our feet, every time we venture into the capital. After all, the subjects of the novel, those commuters who – not unlike you and I – frequent the London tube network often on their way to work or to events or to meet friends and are unashamedly unaware and blissfully ignorant of anything else that may exist outside of their narrow perception of reality – and quite comfortable never to question it. But London Below is home to magical phenomena at every turn; angels, wolf-like humanoid predators, a family who possess the ability to open even the most tightly sealed doors at a touch, reanimation after death and a whole list of events, people and places which defy what we know to be impossible. Of course we don’t believe it; of course it is merely the creative whim of a writer’s imagination. And yet, despite this obvious fact, Gaiman’s prose in Neverwhere rarely assumes the readers ignorance and is so deeply inventive and complete that it reads like a memoir of events, a statement of truth which Gaiman has personally been privy to and is simply relaying onto an unassuming audience, rather than a novel of pure fiction, born of a brilliantly demented mind.

For those that live and/or work in London, and particularly those that find themselves lost in a book on the tube en route to their destination, the story carries a much more impactful weight to it. References to prominent landmarks, renowned locations and busy tube stations will betray you into a sense of comfort, the perception that you are at an advantage simply for being familiar with the many places which the story follows its central characters – before pulling the carpet from under you and forcing you to reimagine a world you thought you knew.

Gaiman’s characters are never one, nor two, nor three dimensional. Instead they come to life on the page as real and living beings whom, no matter how well you think you know them, possess the mercurial yet entirely believable qualities of humanity. You may assume to be safe in the knowledge that one character is ‘good’ and the other is ‘bad’, that one is smart and reliable while the other is ignorant and stupid, but the characters in Neverwhere aren’t so conveniently transparent, they cannot be read nor predicted. However their actions nonetheless do not appear out of place, and the moments which will have you wide-eyed and slack-jawed in disbelief do not achieve this by being entirely unbelievable but by intelligently catching you off guard. It is a primary example of original and organic storytelling which feels refreshing and captivating.

The novel commits to and ultimately owns a number of recurring themes; the unknown, ignorance, love, trust, friendship, suffering and, perhaps the most prominent– sacrifice. The only piece of advice for one looking to immerse themselves in Gaiman’s storytelling prowess in Neverwhere is this; nothing is sacred, nothing is what it seems. And prepare to have your world turned upside-down. Happy reading!

Book Review: Neil Gaiman’s ‘Neverwhere’

Game Review: Dark Souls

If you’re a gamer you’ve likely heard the name before- whether you’ve played it or not, you’ve completed everything FromSoftware has to offer in the infamous Souls series or you’re scared to pick it up for fear of losing your television and likely your sanity to a game which has, time and time again, been referred to as the ultimate challenge for experienced gamers. Dark Souls has a ruthless community of fans who are quick to assure new players that ‘you will die’ and that the sole way to overcome certain obstacles is to painstakingly memorise a myriad of enemy attack patterns and hone your reflexes until they are virtually cat-like. But that doesn’t sound like my idea of a video game at all, and approaching the series for the first time can leave you pondering; aren’t games supposed to relieve stress? to be ‘fun’? to enchant and encapsulate, rather than to infuriate? if this is you, don’t threat. The Souls games require a certain mentality, sure, and you certainly will have a hard time if your definition of ‘gaming’ consists of Candy Crush and Scrabble. But those familiar with console gaming shouldn’t put it off for fear of the infamous ‘you died’ screen. Souls veterans are quick to scare off new players, leading them to form preconceptions of the game before even experiencing it for themselves but once you do you’ll realise, not only are the games entirely doable, but an extremely rewarding and immersive experience. The sense of wariness, the fear resting in the pit of your stomach after turning a corner only to be met by a seven-headed hydra which spans the entirety of your screen, or traversing a fog wall and being met unexpectedly by a highly aggressive and imposing boss with seemingly endless pool of health and a mess of black and writhing limbs is a huge part of what makes the games as enjoyable as they are. Because nothing is as daunting as it first seems. Most every boss battle has a technique to it. occasionally a well (or not so well: see Bed of Chaos) crafted gimmick. Sometimes obvious, sometimes obscure, but it’s there, for sure, and you’ll feel great once it all clicks into place.

Few games stress the importance of player mortality, or rather, avoiding death and exercising caution as well as the Souls series but rather than making the game a frustrating grind of death after death, rinse and repeat, it serves only to add to the epic heights the game reaches for. It provides a challenge which often scares you infinitely more than it should, and when you come out victorious after only a few attempts and reach the other side more or less unscathed you’re left to ponder why it took half an hour simply to muster up the courage to try it in the first place. The Souls series, and Dark Souls III in particular, do a brilliant job of easing you into the games at a pace which at first glance seems like an insurmountable challenge, only to have you look back soon after at the figurative mountain you conquered earlier and realise it was little more than a bump in the road. That’s not to say there aren’t many genuinely difficult obstacles to overcome, areas and bosses which seem deliberately designed to make you scream and pull at your hair until there’s nothing left, but you’re given ample time to learn and familiarise yourself with the controls, not to mention the ability to partake in some good old ‘jolly co-operation’ which is finally made simple in the latest and (hopefully not) final release.

There is little use in ranking the games in order of difficulty as these opinions are formed by players after the fact and are highly dependent on a number of factors, such as the order in which they were played by each individual, how much outside influence aided them (online guides, help from friends) the build and stats they invested in and their ability to pick up the controls and adapt to the subtle but all-important differences between the three games. It is fair to say, however, that committing to playing these games blind, without the use of any external aid to guide you, no clues as to where to go next, where to find good weapons, gear and a number of items needed to actually progress through the game will undoubtedly lead to a much more unforgiving experience and should be reserved for only the most masochistic gamers out there. Much of the difficulty stems from the unknown, being caught off guard and learning from mistakes- this is likely why many seasoned players, especially those playing all the way back in 2011 when stat guides and quest guides and weapon guides and area guides and boss guides weren’t so readily available, consider the first instalment to be among the hardest in the series. That and Anor Londo.

With that said, good luck!

Game Review: Dark Souls

XXX. FEAT. U2 Review

Picking a favourite track from Kendrick’s new release DAMN. is no easy task. Each track is significant in its own right; a moral dilemma, a declaration of love, an unforgiving social commentary or a downright exercise in hypocrisy. But for me the track that gets played first- almost without fail and more often than I’d like to admit- features one of the strangest yet somehow most elegant collaborations between the veritable King of the West Coast and U2’s Bono, who conjures up memories of that one South Park episode aptly titled ‘Bono’s Broken Record’.

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The best comparison I can give, and likely the reason why the song sticks out amongst an album in which each and every track is a testament to Kendrick’s supreme ability as a wordsmith, is Wing’s Band on the Run. Even stranger comparison? fair enough. Now I don’t mean to suggest Paul McCartney can’t rap- I wouldn’t know- but what gets me is how a song little over four minutes long is effectively three songs in one, and still feels more authentic, raw and honest than anything I’ve heard in a while. And to top it off (believe me, I thought i’d never say this), U2 are a welcome addition to an already masterfully crafted, fiercely powerful song. Kendrick raps on the state of the US, gives frank advice on how to deal with brutal loss and criticises the portrayal of black rappers within a corrupt and racist media throughout the record but takes four short minutes to capture the entire essence of the album with the finesse and profound intelligence which he has become synonymous with.

XXX. FEAT. U2 Review