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I blanked. I mean, I didn't blank blank, there are dozens of options, but every time I tried to narrow anything down my brain sort of just fused. I've at least passingly touched on most of the classics (other than Jo March, and I never really cared about her anyway), and since my twenties (during which I drifted from mostly fiction to mostly non-fiction) not much that I've read has stuck with me. The first idea that stood out was Scarlett (aka the Horseman of War) from Good Omens by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett, if only because when I first read it, I loved the idea of War being a woman, and frankly, she was kind of cool. Terrible, but intriguing, much as war can be, and that was interesting. But I skimmed back through that and, well, no, thank you. The following thought was Pratchett's Susan Sto Helit, who I do like quite a lot, but I've already got another Pratchett lady slated for later and too much overlap makes me itchy, so sorry, Susan.

So I decided to go with my brother's suggestion, because she was someone I thought of, and is someone I really quite like, and still gives Neil Gaiman a look-in.



Day Thirteen: Favorite female character in a book I haven't touched on yet

The Lady Door of the House of the Arch of Neverwhere.

I came to Neil Gaiman late, and possibly for that reason, find him very hit-and-miss. If I'd started reading him as early as Pratchett (other than Good Omens), maybe I'd be less critical; the difference being, Gaiman seems to love his characters a little too little, Pratchett a little too much. I've repeatedly tried to pick up Gaiman's works over the last five years or so, but most of the time I find my mind wandering within a page, and not in the good way, and I give up. I have slogged through Stardust ("It's short," I thought hopefully), but the results weren't encouraging.

So far, there are two real exceptions, enough to secure my affection and repeated attempts to read his other stuff: Neverwhere, and his short stories, which are brilliantly, intensely creepy in a way his longer ones don't seem to be able to sustain. Neverwhere I never wanted to put down, and love unreservedly. In it, he takes a Peter Pan parable of lostness, twists and matures it, and absolutely nails something about street people and street society (or at least those I've known), even when using the fantastic to make it more palatable.

Door is, naturally, the character through whom the hapless hidden-depth-ed protagonist enters the Underside, London Below, the city whose denizens are those – or descendents of those – who fell through the cracks of London Above. The reason I didn't immediately pick her is that we are never in her journey; we see her journey, but we're in Richard's, as it tags along with hers. Even when the narrative leaves him to follow her, we remain outside of it, and throughout the book she remains other, witnessed but not known. (I've not yet seen Gaiman successfully put us in the head of an outsider. Technically, yes, Richard is the outsider in London Below, just as most of his protagonists (from what I can tell) are outsiders in the weird and wonderful and dangerous worlds they fall into and luck their way through. Yet (like the others) Richard's not an outsider; mentally, he's an insider who's stumbled into an outside world, and even though his journey is discovering his place in that world, that mentality never quite changes.)

When we meet Door, she's running from men who murdered her family, and stumbles into Richard's path. She is powerful – she, like her whole family, can open or create doors, and physically is very resilient – but young, probably mid or late teens, and inexperienced, needing guidance and protection herself as she tries to find out why her family were killed and she's being hunted to finish the job. She's exhausted, grieving, and caught up in much larger concerns, but despite the risk, she still extends her own protection to Richard, recognising it's because he helped her that he's stuck in London Below.

I would, honestly, love to see more of the heart of that, but Gaiman's strength is in the fantastical surfaces, and there he does give us a richness that we can mine for clues to construct what we like. So, Door from the outside:

The homeless girl didn't say anything. She looked bad: pale, beneath the grime and brown dried blood, and small. She was dressed in a variety of clothes thrown over each other: odd clothes, dirty velvets, muddy lace, rips and holes through which other layers and styles could be seen. She looked, Richard thought, as if she'd done a midnight raid on the History of Fashion section of the Victoria and Albert Museum, and was still wearing everything she'd taken. Her short hair was filthy, but looked like it might have been a dark reddish color under the dirt.

[...]

Richard realized that he could not tell what color her eyes were. They were not blue, or green, or brown, or gray; they reminded him of fire opals: there were burning greens and blues, and even reds and yellows that vanished and glinted as she moved.

I love the visuals. I love fantastical appearances. I love characters in layers of clothing that encrypt their personality and history. I love the steampunk base and aesthetic potpourri of different eras. I would love to spend more time with Door, in her world, in a time that isn't the span of the book where she's mostly running and surviving.

But in the meantime, I've got fanart (at least those that don't have her bustily falling out of a corset), and even better, this to look forward to.


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