There are cities in Europe where, if you dig down deep enough, you find an older version of the city buried beneath the new. Some of them were built on top of the ruins of former Roman cities, while others have literally buried the past under the present.
Some of the oldest cities, like London and Rome, are laced beneath the surface with tunnels and catacombs that are the remnants of old sewer systems and temples. Rivers that once flowed through the centre of town have, over the course of a thousand years, gradually wormed their way deep under the skin of the earth to create unseen arteries beneath the feet of today’s inhabitants.
Look beneath the surface of any modern city with a subway system and you’ll find a second set of tracks, and even some stations, beneath those in everyday use. Some have been designed to be used as training facilities, while others have fallen into disuse from age and safety issues. It’s long been supposed that various people wishing to remove themselves from society have made these tunnels into their shelters from the rest of humanity, but they aren’t the only ones sheltering beneath our feet.
In the London of Tim Lebbon and Christopher Golden’s book, Mind The Gap, the living are joined by spirits from the city’s past. They aren’t ghosts of specific people; instead they are physical manifestations of history. They are shades and shadows that reflect all who have ever lived within the confines of London’s boundaries.
Jasmine Towne, known to her few friends and her mom as “Jazz,” discovers the existence of both the physical and spectral beings beneath the city on the day she is forced to flee the overworld in fear for her life. It turns out Jazz’s mom hadn’t just been paranoid when she had instilled in her daughter the idea she should never trust anybody and that she should always listen to any inner voice that warned her of danger. It’s listening to that voice that saves her life the day her mom was murdered by the mysterious men Jazz had called “Uncles” all her life.
Fleeing from them, she dashes into a London subway station – The Underground. In a desperate attempt to lose her pursuers, she jumps on the tracks and dashes into a tunnel. It’s here that she stumbles upon the hidden world beneath the city’s streets. Among the physical beings, she is sheltered by the Fagan-like Harry Fowler who provides a home for a flock of teenaged petty thieves and pickpockets. After telling them her story, she is accepted among them and is delighted to discover she has a flair for the “work” they do to survive. She’s quickly accepted into the “family,” who call themselves the United Kingdom.
Even underground she can’t escape the men who killed her mother, though, and they track her to the United Kingdom’s lair – where one of her new friends is killed and Harry is brutally beaten. Jazz only escapes because it seems like the city itself comes to her rescue.
Early on, Jazz had discovered she had a certain affinity for the spirits that allowed her not only to see, but to hear them, as well. Every so often the built up emotions of all the spirits living underground gather together to form a wind that screams with the sound of their anguish. Although horrible because of her friend’s murder, it’s because of the attack on her and her friends that Jazz finds out the secret about her Uncles, and what was behind the murder of her mother.
Harry, and everybody else in the United Kingdom, including Jazz, wants to exact revenge on those who killed their friend. When they discover the mayor of London made promises in the press to clean up “those nest of rats that live beneath the streets of our fair city,” Harry concocts a plan to rob people he knows to be friends of the mayor. It’s on the second of these jobs that Jazz interrupts Terence as he’s robbing the same house. She also discovers a photo of all her Uncles in this house – a photo that was taken by Harry Fowler and in which she recognizes the face of her father staring back at her.
What’s the mysterious connection that ties her father, Terence, The Uncles, and Harry all together? If Jazz wants to live she is going to have to find out. The answer, when she finds out, is as amazing as it fantastical, and results in her whole world being changed. This, like everything else about this story, makes perfect sense for the world that the authors have created for her story to take place in. The majority of the people in Mind The Gap, and the majority of the locations for that matter, are the same as they are in our version of the world, yet running like a small stream through it all is a sliver of magic.
Christopher Golden and Tim Lebbon have created a world in Mind The Gap where magic is alive and well, but so are cellular phones. It’s this mixture that makes the story so effective, for it is far easier for us as readers to suspend our disbelief when there are so many things we can identify with in a story. They act like anchors that help us to hold on when the magic in the story starts to blossom.
What really makes this story work is the wonderful job they have done in creating the characters. We see the world through the eyes of Jazz. From the time we enter into her head until we leave her at the end of the story, everything she does is perfectly normal within the context of what the authors have created for her. From the first moment we meet her, Jazz is a completely believable character. Because we believe in her, it’s easy to accept the rest of the characters as well.
Mind The Gap is part fantasy, part mystery, and part suspense story. The authors have done a great job balancing the three elements and braiding them together into one exciting read.