on 11 July 2012
'American Gods' is a surreal exploration of the ways in which spiritual and temporal 'Gods' have entered into a vicious struggle to retain the adoration, or even just the attention, of the humans that brought them into being in the first place. There are no rules here, in a world populated by Gods whose power is only as potent as the belief that fuels their existence.
The main protagonist, Shadow, is likable and compelling. He offers a deadpan counterpoint to the weirdness of the god-filled world in which he finds himself. His mental equilibrium helps the reader to safely negotiate the strangeness into which he is released after serving time in jail for committing GBH.
He soon meets Wednesday, who employs him for reasons that slowly become apparent as the story ensues. He provides an equally compelling character to enjoy. His dubious moral compass serves to add to his intrigue, while his humour and bravado make him a character who you never quite trust but nonetheless root for.
This is a glitzy, showy beast of a novel that shines with Gaiman's creative flair. I loved the way that all the various mythologies were interwoven within the fabric of this novel and Shadow's deadpan view of the whole is an interesting complement to the wackiness of the prose.
To justify giving this 4 stars rather than 5, I would say that the conclusion to the novel does not really live up to the promise of the preceding narrative. I was looking for something a bit more profound, perhaps mistakenly, and felt a little like I imagine one of Wednesday's victims might once the mechanics behind one of his confidence tricks has been revealed.
Magic loses its joy once it is explained and, while the story dazzled me, the ending ensured that the joy I had in it would not endure quite as long as it should have if it had performed the miracle I was craving!
on 16 July 2014
This is a story about ancient gods and their struggle to survive in a world where their fickle worshippers have abandoned them in favour of advertisements, technology and consumerism. Shadow is an ex-con who gets catapulted into a crazy world where he finds himself helping the old gods reclaim their relevance. Throughout the book, we follow Shadow on his journey through America as the sidekick of the enigmatic Wednesday, recruiting disenchanted gods to help win a war that will bring them back to their former glories.
If the premise sounds intriguing, rest assured that it is, unfortunately the execution lets it down slightly. The best parts of the book are the parts spent encountering the old gods who have been forced to live human lives in America after their once loyal worshippers have either died or forgotten them. More interesting still are the occasional glimpses into the gods’ true forms which are spectacular and often terrifying in equal measure. The Ifrit and The Queen of Seba scenes are just a few that spring to mind. There is no denying the Gaiman’s imagination is one of the best in modern fiction, and “American Gods” never falters in the imagination department .
Another commendable aspect is the characters themselves. From the ever mysterious Wednesday to the fear-inducing Czernobog, Gaiman’s characters are a unique and interesting bunch with a strong motive directing their actions. Whilst it is natural for the reader to back the cause of the old gods, it is never made explicit that they have morally superior reasons for their actions than the new gods do. This lends their exploits some moral ambiguity, where it is left to the reader to decide which group is on the side of right, or indeed whether either of them are.
With a host of such great characters, it is a shame that the only character I never really clicked with was Shadow, the protagonist. Gaiman paints him as an observer for the majority of the novel - things just sort of happen to him and he goes along with it. It is only near the end where he starts taking a more pronounced role in the conflict and subsequently his own destiny. I found it was at this point, the book picked up steam after a long lull.
And that long lull is the biggest detriment to the novel as a whole. After the old gods have made their dramatic appearances and we learn what their plan entails, Shadow is abruptly cut off from the action and finds himself in the sleepy town of Lakeside. Here the plot almost completely loses it’s momentum as Gaiman focuses on the much more mundane drama of Lakeside’s residents and the town’s history, none of which is all that interesting. It does have a serviceable murder mystery sub plot, but I didn’t find it as interesting as the main plot line. It was during these middle chapters where i’ll come clean and say I almost gave up.
However with that in mind, i’m glad I powered on. The ending is largely satisfying although it is left open to interpretation, which I enjoyed. Looking back on the journey as a whole, it’s one which left some very strong images thanks to the vivid characters and their fight for survival. It definitely drags in the middle which prevents me from wholeheartedly recommending it, but I think if you have the patience to see it through, “American Gods” is a road trip you’ll be glad to have embarked on.
on 17 September 2012
I will keep this short. I read this when it came out and enjoyed it, almost 10 years on I picked it up again and loved it. I have found myself thinking about the book when away from it, it has a magical effect, so fantastical yet so grounded in reality that you will never look at a cat or an undertaker in quite the same way. I am very excited to hear that HBO are planning a series based on it and the author is writing a sequel... Can't wait! If you like your fantasy a little dark, a little humorous, a little real, this is the book for you!
Not being a fan of "fantasy" novels I knew from the outset that this was probably not going to be my cup of tea. However it came highly recommended by a young family member so I decided to give it a go.
American Gods is essentially a road trip book and is written with great energy and bucketloads of imagination. The main premise is that gods die when they are forgotten but many have been brought to the New World by immigrants and are still around and impinging on the lives of humans. Some of the gods are more easy to identify than others (Mr Wednesday=Odin, Mr Nancy=Anansi and Low Key=Loki). In Shadow (the main protagonist) the analogy with Christianity is implicit - the tree, death, resurrection, the wound in the side.
Shadow's journey criss-crossing the United States is told from the outsider's viewpoint. He passes through towns with fascinating names: Thebes, Peru, Cairo etc. and meets equally fascinating characters.
This is a big novel packed with action and ideas but a bit rambling and ragged in parts. However I can understand its appeal - it is energetic, witty and imaginative.
At one point a character says "All things have rules." "Yeah," said Shadow, "But nobody tells me what they are." As a new reader to this genre I felt the same!
on 15 June 2016
An exceptional book that will live with you long after you've finished reading. I first encountered this book in the library of an American cruise ship. I was casting around for a book to read and spotted this. I had only read Neil Gaiman's collaboration with Terry Pratchett 'Good Omens', which I had enjoyed, but he was a familiar figure so I thought I might give it a go. Perversely, I then kept on putting off reading it until quite late in the cruise, by which time I had a major battle to try and read this lengthy tome in the remaining days. I failed and left the cruise with 152 pages still to read, so tracking down another copy became a bit of an obsession with me. Fortunately, when I did, the tale of Shadow and Wednesday's American Odyssey (to mix mythologies) was still fresh in my mind and, unlike a number of other readers, I found the ending interesting and satisfying. I also enjoyed the American Gods novella which is included in this edition. Great storytelling and a set of characters I would love to be acquainted with again.
on 10 May 2002
I have never read anything by Neil Gaiman before and I am not a comic book fan so, I am afraid, I had never encountered his Sandman escapades. My normal choice of reading is crime fiction with a smattering of decent horror and sci-fi thrown in. I have never been a great fan of the Dungeons/Dragons type of Fantasy or the epic series that often typifies this genre.
I saw a review of American Gods on the Amazon site and was enthralled and enticed by the synopsis of the story, so I decided to buy a copy. This was one of the best decisions I have made this year.
American Gods is an epic in it's own right that literally breaks down the barriers of conventional fantasy writing. For anyone with any degree of knowledge or interest in mythology, and with a mind that doesn't believe in accepting the status quo, this book will take you on journeys of pure joy.
One of your other reviewers likened this to a mix of Stephen King and Clive Barker, and I would have to say that this is a fairly good comparison with the emphasis on the 'Weaveworld' style of Barker and the down-home everyday America writing of Stephen King that makes his dialogue flow and draw you in.
American Gods is a story that I did not want to end. I doubt if there will be a better book written in the same vein.
This is a story that I could not hope to synopsise myself as I think that every reader will form their own personal relationships with the book and will each gain their own rewards depending on their literary leanings.
I do not think I will be rushing out to buy all Neil Gaiman's other books, as I do not think he will have equalled American Gods in any of his previous writings, but I will keep a very close eye on what he comes up with next!
on 14 May 2014
A definite case of quantity over quality - which is a shame. It started as a good read. However, somewhere towards the middle it became tedious and I started skim reading. And it still took me an age to finish. Such a long book (and I have read many a long book) has to be an epic that the reader lives in and is sorry to finish. This was rambling. I spent a whole day reading it just to finish the damn thing and move on.
I believe that the original publication was shorter and that the version I read was 'the authors prreferred version". I would highly recommend the editors cut, I may have given this another star if I had read the original publication.
on 30 November 2005
American Gods is a big book in more ways than one; not only is it over six hundred pages long, but it deals with big ideas. The main character, Shadow, has been released from prison a few days early in order to be able to attend his wife's funeral. On the way home, he's recruited buy the mysterious Mr Wednesday.
It eventually transpires that Shadow has been recruited into a war between gods; the old gods, brought to America by the various immigrants over time, and the new gods of television and media and so forth.
The nice thing about this book is the amount of mythology hidden to a lesser or greater extent in the storytelling. Some of the gods are more easily recognisable than others; the jump from "Mr Nancy" to "Anansi", for instance, is not so great, whereas the link between Mr Wednesday to Odin is not as immediately obvious. But you don't have to have much grounding in mythology to be able to enjoy the book, which is one of the great things about it; there are plenty of layers to be unpicked, if you're that way inclined, but on the other hand, you can just sit back and enjoy Neil Gaiman's masterful storytelling.
The added benefit of this particular edition is the author interview in the back, which gives that extra little insight into the book. It's apparently also the author's preferred text, though having read both versions, I have to say that for the reader it makes little difference.
on 20 January 2015
Back before I decided to read this, several friends of mine suggested avoiding Neil Gaiman’s longer works entirely. “He’s better at short stories,” they reasoned, and they were generally correct. I thought Coraline and The Graveyard Book were pretty great, and another one of my friends said she adored Stardust, even more so than the fan-favourite movie!
But, I said to myself, American Gods has this amazing premise. The old gods are in America, and they’re in very real danger of being ousted from existence by the ‘new guys': money, television, the Internet, etc. It’s not some snarky, fluffy take on old gods living in a modern day city, like Marie Phillips’ Gods Behaving Badly, it’s highly acclaimed and the cover quote is from Philip Pullman. Moth to a flame, I tell you. Of course I was going to get around to reading it some day.
Now, when it comes to writing styles, I really do like some restraint in my description. Don’t strive for the most flowery purple prose, but do make sure you are descriptive in some way. Gaiman rarely ever stops to smell the roses. He does occasionally string together a really lovely sentence, but for the most part, it is one of the most blandly-written books I have ever read. Describe a few more things than just the odd change of scenery, mate. It often plays out like: Shadow goes here, Shadow goes there. Shadow encounters a somebody, Shadow goes out again and drives off. I don’t mind when books play out in a very filmic way, but I was aching for more description of the setting and the characters’ emotions and for the plot to stop dragging its knuckles.
Speaking of characters’ emotions, though, was there any reason for Shadow to be quite so bland as he was? I accept that he was recently bereaved and is likely finding it difficult to adjust to life outside of prison, but this never felt adequately communicated by the text itself. Shadow just bums around following Wednesday’s orders and rarely questioning him. Occasionally Wednesday or Mr. Nancy leave Shadow to his own devices, and he just… goes through the motions. There’s more than just the one stage of grief, you know.
I did like some of the tidbits that Gaiman throws in, even if they are a little groaningly obvious at times. I knew Wednesday was Odin (or, at least, an incarnation of Odin) from the moment he was introduced, and Mr. Jaquel (Anubis) and Mr. Ibis (Thoth) as Egyptian death gods who now run a funeral home? Seriously?
Perhaps in 2001 (when this book was originally published), this was a clever idea. As I was reading, however, I wondered about how the gods are actually handling the huge upswing in pagans who became interested in their faith after getting Internet access and joining groups of like-minded people to help them on their spiritual path? I mean, I knew there were Wiccans and other pagans before the advent of the Internet, but I’m quite sure that the Internet has been a great tool in helping people to discover the religion that is right for them. Sure, you can’t exactly sacrifice a bull to Mithras anymore, but there are still groups of Greek and Roman pagans around. I have a friend who believes in the Ancient Egyptian pantheon of gods, and Odin can’t really complain about the growing popularity of Ásatrú, can he? Or the fact that the stories of these gods still inform popular culture to this day.
The blurb of my copy promises a ‘storm of epic preternatural proportions’, but really? That ending was so horribly anti-climactic. Perhaps it would have been better if Shadow were a more interesting character. Hell, he barely even reacts to these two bombshells that are dropped on him, towards the beginning and towards the end (to remain spoiler free).
Some of the side stories were a welcome relief, though. There was a particularly sweet story about a Cornish woman transported to America, and who brought along all the stories and beliefs from the homeland, and I went “d’aww” at the conclusion of it. But seriously, a lot of the time, my enjoyment came from the fact that I wasn’t dawdling around small-town America with Shadow for the umpteenth time.
Sorry, maybe this just wasn’t my cup of tea. I do like Gaiman, I was just sorely disappointed by this one. The pacing is fine, but the writing style was just so bland it became nearly insufferable, apart from a few gems here and there. I cared little for Shadow, and thought the general idea was so much better than the execution, even if it is often flawed. I think I’ll be sticking to his short stories and collaborations from now on.
on 1 May 2011
Shadow is in prison. It won't be long now and he'll be a free man. His life out there is waiting together with his beloved wife, Laura. The day of the release, he's told that Laura died in a car accident. The world seems to stand still and he dies inside. Probably he was already dead, but he didn't really know it.
Alone and confused he meets Wednesday, a strange and mysterious man, who offers him a simple but dangerous job: he will have to drive him from place to place, he will have to hurt people, but only if it's necessary and should he die, he will held his vigil.
The storm's coming and together with it, a battle who will shed more than blood.
What Shadow doesn't know yet is that there are Gods in this world and they have been forgotten by those worshipers, who brought them to America a long time ago. And there are new Gods, modern ones, who want to take over the world and clean it from the old ones.
Shadow will learn this on his journey, and he will also learn that what we see is not always the truth. His adventure will show him life and death, wisdom and corruption, love and hate. He will find himself on this journey, but the price to pay for it will be high. Nothing will be the same again.
It's a long book, you will have to concentrate to keep track of all the Gods if you're not familiar with mythology. But it will be worth it. Enlightening, powerful, exciting. Gaiman never fails to surprise me and every one of his books is a precious fascinating work. Neverwhere is still my all time favorite though.