Review: Dark Cities Underground, Lisa Goldstein

Dark Cities Underground is a rather good novel by Lisa Goldstein in the subcategory of fantasy that deals with the intrusion or overlapping of myth (as opposed to Faerie) into the modern world. The story is about, well, dark cities underground, particularly their train systems. Three of the many meanings or values of the Underground are the land of the dead, the place where stories come from, and the place where weird rail systems run (or the name of the weird system itself, in London's case); Dark Cities Underground is concerned with all three meanings, in their literal and their figurative senses.

The reader is led underground by Ruthie Berry, who is trying to interview Jeremy Jones for a book. When Jeremy was a child, he allegedly told his mother stories of trips through a garden into Neverwas, a place of Guardian Dogs, dragons, missing kings and searching queens, wicked uncles, pirates, sword fights, and so forth; she turned these into a bestselling series of children's books. Now an adult, Jeremy has no memory of telling his mother stories, has changed his name to Jerry, and does his best to put Neverwas behind him. However, the arrival of Ruthie, trying to earn a living, and an unpleasantly persistent Mr. Sattermole, trying to find Jerry's old garden, begin to jog his memory.

The intrepid fantasy reader will be absolutely unsurprised to find that Neverwas is more than a child's make-believe and that Jeremy must revisit the ghosts of his past. In the process, the book visits a variety of subway systems (as a confirmed Bostonian, I admit to disappointment that Boston's venerable system was not mentioned, while Baltimore's desperately uninteresting one-line excuse for a Metro was, but one can't have everything), absent friends, lost loves, old gods—err, sorry, wrong author. Though many of these people and places are quite interesting, the pace of the book is slightly too fast for some of these to make an impression. In particular, a major shift in the plot's focus toward the end, while thematically harmonious, seems to be introduced and then resolved a bit abruptly. The result, for me at least, was to flatten out the dramatic rollercoaster just enough to be noticeable.

Despite this pacing problem, Dark Cities Underground tells an entertaining story and even makes some thoughtful points along the way, wisely noting that one's identity can be as much trap as liberation. Fans of Tim Powers's Last Call and related novels and Neil Gaiman's Neverwhere and Sandman (with its "To absent friends..." toast) should certainly give this book a try.

%T   Dark Cities Underground
%A   Goldstein, Lisa
%C   New York
%I   Tor
%D   1999
%G   0-312-86828-6
%P   252pp
%O   hardcover

Copyright July 23, 1999 by Kate Nepveu. Originally posted to rec.arts.sf.written.

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