American Gods by Neil Gaiman
In what is one of his most celebrated works, up there along with Sandman, Neil Gaiman’s American Gods is one of the best books of its genre. The real dilemma presented us however is understanding just which genre Gaiman was writing. This is not a negative opinion of his writing ability, suggesting that he doesn’t seem to have any idea what he is doing. Just the contrary, American Gods manages to broach several genre barriers all the while making it look as if Gaiman was creating his own genre.
The end result is very much like creating a new species of rose; you take those qualities from other roses that you want, and then splice (is that the right term, or have I gone down a more Frankenstein’s monster route?) them all together. The process may not be all that pleasant, but the outcome is beautiful.
Wikipedia, my source for all things, describes the novel as “a blend of Americana, fantasy, and various strands of ancient and modern mythology.” Of those three, I was already a fan of the latter two (I’m combining mythologies into one), but even having loved American Gods I can’t say that I’m anymore a fan of Americana than I was when I started.
The story follows the “mysterious and taciturn protagonist” (Wikipedia again), Shadow, who starts out a prisoner coming up on his last days in prison. However Shadow is released a few days earlier, due to the untimely death of his wife, Laura. On the flight back home he meets a man, Mr. Wednesday, who shows not only too much interest in Shadow, but too much knowledge to be comfortable.
Wednesday came out of a room down the hall, and beckoned to Shadow.
“How was the funeral?” he asked.
“It’s over,” said Shadow.
“You don’t want to talk about it?”
“No,” said Shadow.
Good.” Wednesday grinned. “Too much talking these days. Talk talk talk. This country would get along much better if people learned how to suffer in silence."
From: American Gods by Neil Gaiman
What comes next, after Shadow accepts a job from Wednesday to be his bodyguard and all around odd-jobs man, is a variety of cross-country trips. We quickly get the sense that Wednesday is more than he seems, and Shadow’s unfortunate lack of knowledge seems to be winding him up in a lot of trouble.
Over the course of the book, Shadow is introduced to a variety of Wednesday’s friends, associates and, for lack of a better term, enemies. Gaiman does a commendable job of creating a mythology for America which, like Australia, is a country based upon the fragments of others. And so, naturally, fragments of old gods live across the US. Add to that a mix of American folk heroes like Johnny Appleseed, along with some new gods that the Americans have cooked up, manifestations of modern life and technology like the internet, TV, etc.
The entire plot, not unsurprisingly, is left hinging on Shadow; the choices he has made and the choices he is left to make. And while things don’t come to resolution until the battle is won, there are points where you just wish you could be left alone with Shadow, and the small community of Lakeside.
Shadow shut the front door. The room was freezing. It smelled of people who had gone away to live other lives, and of all they had eaten and dreamed. He found the thermostat and cranked it up to seventy degrees. He went into the tiny kitchen, checked the drawers, opened the avocado-colored refrigerator, but it was empty. No surprise there. At least the fridge smelled clean inside, not musty.
From: American Gods by Neil Gaiman
Being born an Englishman, and by Englishman I mean a “man” born in “England”, Gaiman shows a surprising and unerring ability to describe America as if he had not only been brought up there, but had somehow been part of the scenery for a long time. The descriptions of locales all across the country give you the sense that, for a period of time, Gaiman did nothing but drive across the US, occasionally peering into people’s houses, site-seeing and generally attempting to memorize the entire country.
But even having that knowledge would have been nothing, without his almost unnatural ability to write. I imagine Gaiman could write a book about the effects of frostbite and I would still be fascinated, drawn in by his spellbinding and almost magical descriptions.
If you are a fan of either of the three categories, a fan of literature, America, or even a fan of zombies (what’s a dead wife if she can’t come back to visit, eh?), American Gods by Neil Gaiman is for you. And though I can only award it 8 out of 10, it isn’t for lack of trying. It is simply that other things came before it which scored better, and I’m now stuck in a perpetual ratings loop.
This American Gods book review was written by Joshua S Hill
Have you read American Gods?
We've found that while readers like to know what we think of a book they find additional reader reviews a massive help in deciding if it is the right book for them. So if you have a spare moment, please tell us your thoughts by writing a reader's review. Thank you.
American Gods reader reviews
RaphaŽl from France
This trip was delightful and surprising. Gaiman shows a real talent to narrate impressionistic scenes and dares to take weird turns. Strongly recommended.
Xavier from Vienna
Neil Gaiman has long been on my list of must-read-soon authors. And so following on from reading The Graveyard Book, which gets better and better which each read, I moved onto another of the author's well-know works, American Gods. The first third of the book was okay, the story was interesting enough and the writing skilful enough to keep me interested, but it was not that something special that I had hoped for. However, once past the opening the final two-thirds are very, very good, with the protagonist's say in Lakeside being an excellent story-within-a-story that reminded me strongly of Stephen King (who says very nice things about Gaiman on the book's front cover). I personally don't think that American Gods showcases the very best of Gaiman in that I found it a little clunky and a little too unbelievable (yes, I know this is fiction but stillÖ) in parts to allow for complete captivation. But it is a book that is a very rewarding read, a book that improves as it progresses and a book that should be recommended to those with an interest in American history, and in particular those with an interest in the gods that have been created by the world's peoples over thousands of years. 8.7/10 would be my exact score, which I have rounded up to 9 for this review :)
8.5/10 from 3 reviews
Write a reader review
Thank you for taking the time to write a review on this book, it really makes a difference and helps readers to find their perfect book.
More recommended reading in this genre
The Grimnoir Chronicles
Jake Sullivan is a war hero, a private eye—and an ex-con. He’s free because he has a magical talent, being able to alter the force of gravity in himself and obj...
Three Parts Dead
A god has died, and it's up to Tara, first-year associate in the international necromantic firm of Kelethres, Albrecht, and Ao, to bring Him back to life before His cit...
Deep in the research wing of the Natural History Museum is a prize specimen, something that comes along much less often than once in a lifetime: a perfect, and perfectly pr...
Rosemary and Rue
The world of Faerie never disappeared; it merely went into hiding, continuing to exist parallel to our own. Secrecy is the key to Faerie's survival: but no secret can b...
Simon Burns is fired from his job without warning. Reluctantly, he takes on the role of stay-at-home dad for his three-year-old son but this pushes his already strained mar...
Looking for more suggestions? Try these pages:
- Recommended contemporary / urban fantasy books/series
- Recommended contemporary / urban books/series
- Recommended books/series featuring lore, legend and mythology
Books of the Month
A selection of books - old and new alike - that were a joy to read.
Ceda, now a Blade Maiden in service to the kings of Sharakhai, trains as one of their elite warriors, gleaning secrets even as they send her on covert missions to further their rule. She knows the dark history of the asirim--that hundreds of years ago they were enslaved to the kings against their will--but when she bonds with them as a Maiden, c...
Dead Men Naked
After the sudden death of his best friend Neil, involving a 6-foot giant crow and quite some Tequila, Lou’s life takes an unexpected turn towards the impossible. As L...
Age of Assassins
Girton Club-Foot, apprentice to the land's best assassin, still has much to learn about the art of taking lives. But their latest mission tasks him and his master with ...
A Conjuring of Light
The precarious equilibrium among the four Londons has reached its breaking point. Once brimming with the red vivacity of magic, darkness casts a shadow over the Maresh Empi...
Sebastien de Castell
Falcio val Mond, First Cantor of the Greatcoats, is on the brink of fulfilling his dead King's dream: Aline is about to take the throne and restore the rule of law once...
The Boy with the Cuckoo-Clock Heart
Edinburgh, 1874. On the coldest night the world has ever seen, Little Jack is born with a frozen heart and immediately undergoes a life-saving operation. But Dr Madeleine i...
The republic faces annihilation, despite the vigilance of Galharrow's Blackwings. When a raven tattoo rips itself from his arm to deliver a desperate message, Galharrow...