Mike Shevdon, Angry Robot Books
It really isn’t “Neverwhere.”
Many reviews–including those cited on the cover of the book itself–proclaim Sixty-One Nails to be a new Neverwhere. While they do share a plot hook (An otherwise ordinary person ends up embroiled in a secret conflict of supernatural tenor after an accident in London) and have a similar setting (A parallel society that exists alongside contemporary London), it does the book rather a disservice to insist on the similarities without accounting for the ways in which the story is unique.
Rather than Gaiman’s dreamy semi-surreal dreamlike narrative, the narrative of Sixty-One Nails comes closer to the feel that Lackey and Butcher give their works–though perhaps not so hard-boiled as Butcher’s Dresden Files series. Shevdon takes great care to create in his work a sense of plausibility, using tidbits of real history and geography to grant his narrative credence that brings it beyond being yet another urban fantasy.
It does, at times, though, go perhaps a little too far in its quest to be new and different; while the protest against the Victorian flower-garden fairy impressions is well made, having yet another synonym for “The Fair Folk” but spelled with a Y seems somewhat gratuitous. Still, the weave of classic folklore, ancient (but real) customs, and a fairly unique organizational system makes his Feyre into clever and interesting characters, especially given the interesting political situation that the Courts are engaged in–no simple Summer/Winter matter here, but a byzantine permutative structure that should allow for endless intrigues throughout the future books in the series.
The focus characters are well-rounded, though the designated antagonists throughout the bulk of the book seem, perhaps only by contrast, a bit on the shallow side. Mr. Shevdon is to be credited for realistically advancing the characterization of the viewpoint character, though; Niall (aka “Rabbit”) is demonstrably a different person at the end of the piece than he was at the beginning. “Blackbird,” as well, shows some character growth, though most of it seems to be as a contrast to the growth Niall goes through.
I was less pleased with the portrayal of some of the background characters (though, granted, as they’re background characters they’re not the focus of the story and rightfully receive less characterization); I found the ex-wife to be almost a stereotype, and the daughter to be practically non-existant–for people who are supposedly so important to Niall, he seems to have only the most tenuous opinions about them.
On the whole, though, Sixty-One Nails does provide a good starting point for the series, and if the quality of the writing remains at least as high, the series should be memorable. World-building, especially building a vibrant and believable world, is never an easy process, but Mr. Shevdon seems to have found a good balance in how he integrates fantastic elements and contrasts them against mundane locations.
I would heartily recommend Sixty-One Nails; it has many of the elements that a good read requires, and combines these elements in a fresh and interesting way. As befits a world-building novel, there are numerous tantalizing hints regarding the way that the world works; I’m very much looking forward to see how these hints pan out.