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A bad land for gods,
This review is from: American Gods (Paperback)A wonderful modern fantasy, Neil Gaiman turns the genre on its head with this book. No false heroics or quests for rings or captive maidens. This story is about today's values and how they impact tradition. Gaiman adds a further novel touch by locating this tale in America's Midwest, the final stop for countless immigrants. Small towns, flat country, constrained people, far from the rush and bustle of cities. A perfect site for a cosmic battle.
Gaiman has written before of the last battle - Armageddon. Good Omens, written with Terry Pratchett, pictured an angel [good] and a demon [evil] reassessing their roles before the final confrontation. American Gods is likewise a departure from the traditional, with ancient gods rising to confront the new American god - Technology. Odin, whose believers brought him across the Atlantic, conscripts Shadow, an ex-con, into acting as a cup-bearer. Having lost his wife and the possibility of employment in a stroke, Shadow takes on the role. He's not a believer, for him it's bed and board. He grows attached to the idea that there may be something in helping the old duffer - a near-faith hardened by encounters with acolytes of the modern creed. Odin, known to Shadow as Wednesday, is hardly the epitome of "good." Technology's adherents, while not evil, are cold, harsh and power driven. As it turns out, they are typically American - practical.
Shadow's role grows from mere go-fer for Wednesday to something more significant. After all, why does Shadow's wife Laura return from the grave [and are there ever some grim scenes in that regard!]? Why sequester a go-fer to a "perfect town" in northern Wisconsin for his protection? Why do the Technology deities, especially the Media Goddess, work so hard to woo him to their cause? Shadow dreams with such intensity it would put a normal person in a room with soft walls. What keeps him sane? What keeps him going against what appear to be insurmountable odds? The answers aren't readily anticipated with Gaiman's skillful plot darting and weaving as it builds. It's not obscure, but neither is it predictable. Gaiman's prose holds the reader's attention throughout. With many threads of story line kept under tight discipline, Gaiman weaves a tapestry incorporating the real and the fantastic, the mundane and the bizarre. The emerging picture makes compelling reading.
Gaiman's research for this book stands out everywhere. The gods standing with Odin are nearly all Norse deities, but there's a sprinkling of others. The Greek and Roman pantheons are ignored, perhaps because their adherents were suborned by the Eastern Mediterranean Mob, J.C. and The Boys. Norse mythology has a comforting appeal, and "good" and "evil," "sin" and "grace" had no place. Besides, in the confrontation with technology, there seems little room for compromise, and a warrior deity to lead the host seems fitting. Shadow, who has no religion, is gently educated in these northern gods as he encounters them. They are his collective mentors, helping and encouraging him. The reason for this attention is finally revealed at the end. It's worth going there to find out. [stephen a. haines - Ottawa, Canada]