If you’ve spent enough time in the subways of a city, you’ve probably wondered late at night if those No Passenger trains are ghost trains that only you can see. In London Below, you can step aboard, but watch your back. There are Black Friars, and there’s an Earl at Earl’s Court, and you don’t want to encounter the Shepherds.
The plot’s kind of forgettable, and maybe half the characters too, but the setting is all dark and satisfying as chocolate cake. I confess I’m easy; just the London tube map pulls me. All those evocative London names — Blackfriars, Shepherd’s Bush, Elephant & Castle. It makes me miss my fruit stand at Goodge Street and the kids trying to bust through the wall at King’s Cross. I’ve seen a million buses heading to Shepherd’s Bush and always wondered where they were going. These names are not just historical, but accretively magical, and Neil taps into the deep accumulated magic that rumbles through the Underground.
London Above cruises along in witless parallel. There are so many cities in every city. The folks of London Above can’t see the taproot of their city, but they move in inevitable tandem because London Above and Below are two sides of one coin. They name the Islington stop Angel, for example, with no understanding of its significance. The story knits tightly into real places, so readers familiar with London will know exactly where the characters are, and here’s the funny thing: London Above is magical too, without tricks, and in the clear light of day.