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!
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.
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 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 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 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 22 November 2005
American Gods is possibly one of the greatest books ever written. Not because of its prose, not because it is an evolutionary book of its time, but because it is the most bizarrely conceived idea that is presented in an almost plausible manner with that magical ingredient: the story weaving ability of Neil Gaiman. I loved this book, truly.
The story centres on the character of Shadow who is about to be released from prison and is eager to get back to a life and, above all, back to his wife. Two days before he is due to be released Shadows wife dies tragically in a car accident. On the journey home from prison to attend his wife’s funeral Shadow meets the enigmatic Mr Wednesday who offers him a job. Having nothing of his old life remaining to go back to Shadow reluctantly agrees to the offer on, what he believes are, his terms.
Mr Wednesday takes Shadow to a bar where he drinks three glasses of mead to “seal the agreement” and the pair meet Mad Sweeney; a leprechaun and an alcoholic. From then on nothing in Shadows life is conventional as we follow him on the path of Mr Wednesday’s agenda to a surprising and satisfying conclusion.
I could rave on about this book but I would not want to spoil the plot for you. Needless to say it has won the Hugo Award, the Nebula Award, the Bram Stoker Award and the Locus Award. This book is pure Gaiman; its book heroin. I was reading it on the toilet, on the tube, during my tea breaks, during commercial breaks, in fact any spare minute that I had was spent reading this book I enjoyed it that much, and now my girlfriend is suffering the same fate. I would recommend this read in a heartbeat.
This republished version of Neil Gaiman's novel from 2001 is like a director's cut of a movie. Originally differently edited, Gaiman here releases the book he originally wrote, more or less.
It is one of those shambling, rambling, picaresque Don Quixote type tall tales - except the landscape is remarkably dark, gothic, terrifying and bloody, as well as quirky, inventive and playful.
A mysterious man, Shadow, whose rather mythic identity will eventually be revealed is released from his prison sentence early. And from then on, things go abysmally wrong. The symbolically named Shadow, who indeed, always seems to be in someone's, stumbles into a complex ancient battleground of mankind's yearning dreams, of the stories we told ourselves of gods and heroes, past and present, of what we worshipped and adored.
Gaiman peoples America with the various gods brought from various parts of the globe, by those who landed on her shores, from history and from prehistory. Bellicose Norse Gods rub shoulders with matriarchal pagans from Africa, Egyptian animal headed gods accompany leprechauns and pixies. Savage humour and horrific zombies party together. Orpheus makes a different kind of journey into a different kind of Hades, and Eurydice is far from a pretty sight.
Ancient gods like these have been forgotten, but linger on, and modern America worships new myths, creates new creatures of power - mass media, technology - paler but no less violent gods, and as demanding of human sacrifice.
I'm not absolutely certain (not having read the original) whether the 'writer's cut' improves the no doubt rather less rambling version of 10 years ago. There were times, sure, when i felt - oh just get ON with the narrative and stop going round and round, and then another revelation would strike.
Flabby it may be at times, not, I think, anywhere near as sure and crafted as Gaiman's latest,The Ocean at the End of the Lane but still, here is a writer who is populist, hugely inventive and with such brilliant imagination and generosity in the telling of tales, that occasional overindulgence must be accepted
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 26 September 2014
First time reading this author. The story draws on familiar devices and mythology: an alternative or parallel reality which can be accessed either by certain people or at certain locations where time and space behave differently; old gods are borrowed and new gods fabricated. Any fan of fantasy will find familiar themes.
However, it also felt really fresh. Fantasy in a very modern setting. I was hooked almost immediately.
Described as an on the road novel, the narrative is interwoven with dream sequences or alternative reality sequences and the reader is introduced to a large cast of characters along the way. Some are forgotten gods transplanted to the Americas centuries ago, only to fade out of memory, existing in the modern world as shadows of their former selves, hidden in plain sight, so to speak. Some are fully realised, three dimensional players; others contributing only brief but enigmatic appearances.
The apparent antagonism between the old and the new gods, generated by human worship of technology, forms a loose framework for the plot. Which feels loose all the way through. This isn't a criticism. I felt it was in keeping with the dream like quality of the whole. You are never quite sure whether you are in Kansas or not.
Following the main protagonist, Shadow, through this journey to its conclusion was a rewarding experience for me. I thought the writing was really good and in parts, beautiful. It was dark, engaging, thought provoking and weird in the very best way. And, I liked the ending! This kindle copy according to the foreword is the full authors edition, published for the American market. I didn't read the first published version and I'm glad I didn't. I can't see how this one could be bettered.
More than just good fantasy fiction. Thoroughly recommend!
Good kindle copy, although American spelling...small niggle really.