Bane of Kings reviews Neil Gaiman’s American Gods, with the author’s preferred text being published by Headline Review in the UK.
“A fantastically written novel. American Gods keeps you hooked and doesn’t let go. Unputdownable.” ~The Founding Fields
Believe it or not, I’ve never heard of Neil Gaiman until I saw The Doctor’s Wife, one of the episodes of Doctor Who Series 6 that I watched last year. I remembered reading somewhere that he was a famous author, and decided to check one of his novels out, yet I didn’t get around to reading it until the end of 2011.
This edition of American Gods is huge, so it is not for those who prefer light reads. It’s 672 pages in length, and deals with several large themes, the chief among which, and perhaps central to the plotline, what if Gods were real? And by Gods, I mean not just one god from one religion, or not even a Pantheon of Gods from one religion. There’s a lot of Gods, despite the main focus clearly being the Ancient Norse myths.
Gaiman’s novel follows the protagonist Shadow, who has just come out of prison early to find that his wife died in a mysterious car accident. As he makes his way home, Shadow encounters the enigmatic Mr. Wednesday, who is claiming to be both a ‘refugee from a distant country at war’, and the ‘King of America,’ and perhaps, even a God himself. Finding himself in Mr. Wednesday’s service, both Shadow and the mysterious newcomer to his life embark on a strange journey across the United States of America.
I don’t normally read page turners that are over six hundred pages, but American Gods is different to most of its ilk. The book has a huge link to mythology as would be obvious from above, as Gaiman uses names that are more subtle than others to hide the true identity of the gods.
The book was what at first appears to be a fantastic premise, and myself being a fan of most ancient gods being adapted to the modern day setting, (See reviews for The Pantheon Trilogy by James Lovegrove) this obviously wasn’t going to be a book that I didn’t like. Plus, it also helped that The Doctor’s Wife was one of my favourite episodes of Doctor Who Series 6, so Gaiman had already proved himself in my eyes, which meant – that I was going into American Gods with high expectations.
Although American Gods is a page-turner, you will still find that perhaps Gaiman could have made the novel shorter and maybe made it quicker to read.
I’m now going to talk about the protagonist, named Shadow. He’s not a character that will quickly become one of your favourites nor is he one that you can familiarise yourself with, after all, not every reader of American Gods has spent some time in prison.
American Gods has been a huge success for Gaiman, having won not only the Bram Stoker award, but also the Hugo Award, the Nebula Award and the Locus Award. This proves that I’m not the only reader out there who knows a good book when I see one.
The book itself revolves around several themes, and indeed, is not just restricted to the ‘old gods’ of Mythology versus the ‘new gods’ of television and media, with several more themes being included in the novel itself.
Gaiman has written a fantastic, enthralling prose in American Gods, and has proved that he is a master with words, for example, to steal from Amazon, take this quote from the novel:
“He opened his mouth to catch the rain as it fell, moistening his cracked lips and his dry tongue, wetting the ropes that bound him to the trunk of the tree. There was a flash of lightning so bright it fell like a blow to his eyes, transforming the world into an intense panorama of image and after-image. The wind tugged at Shadow, trying to pull him from the tree, flaying him, cutting to the bone. Shadow knew in his soul that the real storm had truly begun…”
After reading this novel, Gaiman has made me want to hunt down as many Gaiman books that I can find, because if they are as good as American Gods has been, then I should enjoy them all. I’ve already been tempted by Neverwhere, which has another awesome premise.
Because of the reasons stated above, American Gods gets a very high score on the rating scale. The only reasons that prevented it from getting a 5/5 was the fact that the novel dragged on perhaps a bit too much (although that’s probably my fault for getting the extended version, the author’s preferred text), and the fact that Shadow wasn’t as memorable as he had the potential to be.
More Neil Gaiman: Neverwhere, Stardust, Good Omens, The Graveyard Book, Anansi Boys, Smoke and Mirrors, Fragile Things, M is for Magic, Coraline.
Bane of Kings is one our most senior book reviewers here at The Founding Fields, based in England. He’s a prolific reviewer that has contributed to many things here and around the internet.
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