The master storyteller that is todays Neil Gaiman did not write this book, it was his very talented apprentice the one who grew into the master. The gifts are all there but not yet fully developed.
The story has impeccable pacing, I had a hard time putting the book down and rushed to pick it up when even a 5 minute opportunity presented itself. The world building is immersive and delightfully twisted.
This is a very strange comparison (even for me) but I felt that this book is a demented and disturbed echo of [b:The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy|8224898|The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy Live |Douglas Adams|http://d.gr-assets.com/books/1331721983s/8224898.jpg|21398618]. Richard Mayhew is Arthur Dent the clueless hero through whom the reader experiences a new world - London Below for Richard and The Universe for Arthur. The hero is taken on a journey by a group of companions and is pursued by some very dangerous "people".
So where does this book fall apart (aka loose the 1 star)? First of all, the characters. Though they are well drawn and all obviously have deep histories I didn't get enough of that background to feel that I understood them - I was just getting there when the book ended. And just as with the characters the world too was just beginning to makes sense when the story ended. In essence, this book felt like the BEGINNING of a series, not a stand alone. Too many loose ends and unanswered questions. The best stories never wrap up completely but neither do they leave you feeling like you're in an abandoned weaving factory. This is where the difference between the master and apprentice is most obvious.
I suspect if this story was told 10 years later it would have been far more agonizing and brutal in its ending yet it would have been immensely more satisfying.