Reviewed by Johnny Butane
Written by Christopher Golden & Tim Lebbon
Published by Bantam
Christopher Golden’s always been a fantasy author with a taste for the horrific; Tim Lebbon is a horror author with a taste for the fantastic. Put the two together, and it’s a pretty interesting mix-up of styles but one that, no matter which side you lean to, you’re going to be happy with in their first collaboration, Mind the Gap.
Taking some inspiration from Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere (though anyone who’s read that book can’t help but be inspired), but keeping things a tad more realistic, Mind the Gap is the story of young Jazz, who when we first meet her is immediately struck with tragedy. The men who have always helped provide for her and her mother after her father died, whom she only refers to as “The Uncles”, are at her home, waiting for her suspiciously. Thankfully her mother raised Jazz (short for Jasmine, of course) to be ultra-paranoid and cautious, so she is able to sneak into her house to find out what’s going on.
She finds her mother dead, her throat slit, and a message written in her blood that simply says “Jazz hide forever”. Chill-inducing words, no? So Jazz takes her mother’s final advice and goes to the only place she can figure The Uncles won’t find her: under the streets of London.
There she has her first encounters with the ghosts of London, wandering spirits who show up randomly underground, and a group of other runaway kids known as the United Kingdom. The UK is overseen by a man named Harry, whose past is as much of a mystery as Jazz’s to most of the group, but she finds a place she can call home, as hesitant as she is to settle so soon.
Harry and the UK are thieves, the only way they can survive living so far below London, and soon Jazz is training to steal and avoid capture with the rest of the group. As Jazz gets deeper and deeper (no pun intended), she begins to see more and more evidence that her meeting with Harry was not just chance, that she was meant to be here amongst this group and help another thief, this one topside, recover the parts to an ancient machine that is meant to bring an end to magic in London.
This is where the story gets even more interesting; for the first 3/4 of the book there are some allusions to magic under and above London, but it’s only when she meets the other thief that the story really kicks in and we find out just who the Uncles are, what their goal is, and how the existence of magic in modern-day London is stalling the city’s progression towards the future.
Golden and Lebbon’s skills are unquestionable, and the two working together have managed to create a vibrant world just on the outside of ours without stretching the concept to the point of ridiculousness. Their characters are incredibly well realized, especially the troubled and mistrustful Jazz, whose perspective we see the novel’s actions from. She’s a girl who’s never once known what it was like to trust someone completely save for her mother, who is taken from her in the most horrific of ways, and it’s very easy to see why she’s as angry and confused as she comes across for most of the book.
Hints are dropped throughout to even more fantastical things farther below London, so hopefully this means we haven’t seen the end of these colorful characters and their hidden world.
4 out of 5
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