Why Tubeworld? Because this book reminded me of Discworld, but set in an alternate London, mostly underground. From the blurb - which banged on about the jokey names of the characters - I was expecting a humorous romp around a strange but not-too-threatening fantasy London-with-a-twist, a-la-Pratchett, in mood akin to Hitchhiker's Guide. Or possibly a personal voyage of discovery, like Alice in Wonderland, or Candide.
Instead, I got a thoroughly enjoyable but largely standard adventure, with a dash of romance and those jokey-named characters that might not make sense without having lived there, or at least having access to a Tube map and Google.
What makes it succeed are the characters, though there is some variability there. The main protagonist is not cut from hero cloth, suffering from annoying unheroic ailments, such as spinelessness, vertigo, and occasional bouts of tears - but what can you expect from an office-worker who is out of his depth even in his own world? He does improve, and over the course of the book does manage to do enough things right not to be a total waste of space. And he does start the book by rescuing the heroine.
The real delights, though, are the villains Croup and Vandemar - delightfully, unremittingly, invincibly evil, and with a twinkle in their (or at least Croup's) eye. They're not just villains, though, they're performers, with a steady patter for their audience that may just be their victim, or each other, but comes teasingly close to breaking the fourth wall. They're evil, and unstoppable, and - Discworld reference - reminiscent of Vimes' almost-nemesis Carcer, but with class. Indeed, they'd not be out of place in a Quentin Tarantino movie. Croup and Vandemar know that wearing a suit well is the hallmark of the top-rank assassin.
Ruthlessly, Gaiman kills off one of the early characters, which makes the second killing-off from the hero-party more credible when that happens, and he whittles down the party further, as we grow closer to the finale. So as hidden villains declare themselves, and layers of deception are peeled back, it really does come down to just the two protagonists in chains facing off against the two assassins and their awesomely powerful and somewhat unhinged master.
But the ending is satisfying; balance is restored and the protagonist grows through the experience. Phew!
This is my second Neil Gaiman novel, not up to The Ocean at the End of the Lane by any means, but it does demonstrate humour and versatility, and I shall continue to explore his works.