|This may well be the first book I ever bought|
based solely on the cover and author. I didn't read
the summary until I was standing in line to pay.
However, in 1996, while wasting time at a local stripmall bookstore in Carrollton, GA, I came across a book that was listed as fantasy but seemed like no fantasy novel I'd ever read as it was set in modern-day London's subway tunnels.
Neil Gaiman's Neverwhere tells the story of Richard Mayhew, a young Scottish everyman who finds himself drawn into the dark and feudal world of London's homeless when he attempts to save a wounded ragamuffin girl bleeding on the sidewalk. In his attempts to get her back home and discover who murdered her family, he encounters magical bums who talk to rats, meets the actual earl of Earl's Court, and has tea with the angel who destroyed Atlantis.
All while avoiding two antagonists whoappear to have sprung fully formed from the
opium-addled nightmares of Charles Dickens
The second thing I learned from Neverwhere is more technical: one of the easiest ways to inject a sense of magic and wonder into the ordinary world is to ignore metaphors. In Gaiman's world, metaphors are literal: There are actual black-clad warrior monks guarding Blackfriars Bridge. The Angel, Islington, is an actual angel. And you don't even want to know about Knightsbridge.