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Inspirational Reads

American Gods Reviewed

April 10, 2010

For Christmas, I asked for my very own copy of Neil Gaiman's American Gods. Fortunately, when Father Christmas squeezed his fat, jolly ass down my chimney, he had in his mystical satchel the book I had requested. And I only had to sit on his lap once!

Anyway, I started reading it last week and...




This could be my new Lord of the Rings. This could be one of those books that I pick up once a year and re-read. I don't find things like this very often. Neil Gaiman seems to have cornered the market on writing stories that I like to read and re-read. American Gods is one of those books; the Sandman series is another.

Which makes a lot of sense. There's a lot of similarities between the two stories, though sadly neither Dream nor Death make an appearance in American Gods--though Delirium and Barnabas make a cameo appearance. When I say that there's a lot of similarities between Sandman and American Gods, I'm referencing the latter parts of Sandman, when things began to be more fantastical and less horror-oriented.

The story is brilliantly imagined. When the first settlers and people began to populate and settle in the New World, they brought with them their ancient gods. As the people thanked their deities for helping them find the new land, they prayed to their gods and offered up sacrifices and other rites, the old gods set down roots in America. As the older mythologies began to die in the old world, the old gods remained here in America, where they've kind of stayed. And, in order to retain any of their powers, they've had to make amends to their rites and ceremonies to fit the new world.

Enter the main character, Shadow, who is recruited by a charismatic old "hustler" named Mr. Wednesday, who hires Shadow to be his assistant, to drive him from place to place, protect him if needed, and to hurt people only if they needed to be hurt. Also, in the unfortunate case of Mr. Wednesday's death, Shadow would perform his vigil.

However, as with all stories such as these, things are not that simple, and a "storm" is coming which will sweep up the ancient gods. The storm is an approaching battle between the old gods and newer ideas that resemble deities, and Wednesday is busy, criscrossing the country looking to recruit people to his side to fight in the battle. And Shadow finds himself caught in the middle.

There's a second plot, more of a subplot story, that revolves around a town in Wisconsin where Shadow finds himself staying for a little while that is interesting, but for the greater part of the story seems a bit extraneous. Gaiman says in an interview that he conceived of the subplot at a different point in time, but wove it into American Gods, and it does serve its purpose, but at the end of the story seems like it was unnecessary.

Overall, I was very satisfied by the story; even the subplot works. Like a lot of stories like this, I was able to see where the story was going. I'm not sure if it's because I'm a writer, too, and so I can see through the plot hints and storyline, or if it was a weakness in the story, or if it was more an artifact of knowing the various pantheons and ancient mythologies that allowed me to see the ending. Being that my wife didn't recognize a few of the characters right off, I'm going to say that it was more my familiarity with the subject material that helped me figure out the ending.

In the end, American Gods is an awesome story. You don't need an exceptional knowledge of the subject material, nor do you need to be American, to truly appreciate the story. You don't even need a healthy amount of suspension of disbelief in order to read the story, which is a hallmark of Neil Gaiman's stories. It's well-written, it's fun and very entertaining. It's an easy read and, combined with a cast of characters that you legitimately care about, this quickly becomes a page-turner. I highly recommend it.

Now, if you'll excuse me...I have to go start rereading.


Scope said...

Rök on.

Rag na rök on!

BeckEye said...

Sounds interesting, but I don't know if it's totally up my alley.

Logical Libby said...

I didn't think it was my kind of book, I am not a big fantasy person. I LOVED IT!!!Excellent plot, fascinating characters,and a great ending. It is a must read.

Jeney Peney said...

HUGE fan of Gaiman. Actually his short story Snow Glass Apples is what turned me on to him.

Then I started reading Sandman while I should have been TA-ing during my senior year of HS for a freshmen year English class.

Looks like I have another "to-read" to add to my list.

Pfangirl said...

Wow, your review makes the book sounds fantastic. I must definitely put it on my reading list.

And while we're on the topic of Neil Gaiman, I highly recommend The Graveyard Book, which I read last year. Technically it's "youth literature" but it's still a great read for adults - gloriously dark and morbid without sacrificing a sense of humour.

red said...

Like Becks said, it sounds interesting, but I have a friend who hated it. Though, I usually don't like books she loves so maybe I'll take your word over hers...for once!

Joshua said...

Glad you read it. One of my all-time favorites.

And if you're on twitter, you can follow Neil Gaiman under @neilhimself

And if you do do (hehe, I said doodoo) twitter, why am I not following you?

MJenks said...

@ Scope: I was surprised that there wasn't a big Ragnarok-like finish to the story. In fact, there wasn't a lot of battling at all.

@ Beckeye: I'm not so dumb as to think that everything I like will translate to other people's tastes. That's why I kind of stopped guaranteeing that people would like something that I review, but it was a good read if you're into this kind of modern, urban fantasy. Or, if you liked Sandman, but didn't know where to start with other parts of Gaiman's works.

@ Jeney: Well...Sandman is a better read than Great Expectations, which I read as a freshman, so I think you chose wisely.

@ Pfangirl: Because I'm apparently on a Norse kick right now, I read Odd and the Frost Giants right before reading American Gods. That's another youth-oriented book, so I'm not going to cast aspersions upon you for reading The Graveyard Book.

I've heard from others than The Graveyard Book is phenomenal, as well.

@ red: You, I might think, would like it more than Beckeye, based on some of the fantasy-literature comments you've left on here in the past. Again, I won't guarantee it, but I can see you enjoying it.

@ Joshua: You don't follow me because I don't use the twitter.

But...when I become and author (hopefully not "if")...I'll probably have to sign up for the service. I don't know if I can really simmer my thoughts down to just 140 characters at a time...