I finished reading American Gods. The book by Neil Gaimon has garnered a fair bit of hype since it was first published in 2001. It’s won the hearts of fantasy readers and could be a bit of a genre-breaking book too, as its gained much attention from mainstream readers.
There are spoilers in the coming paragraphs…don’t read them if you don’t want the plot ruined for you.
The story begins by introducing us to Shadow, a prisoner closing in on completing a three year stint for what turns out to be a robbery gone wrong. Shadow is a big man, an imposing figure. He’s also got a love of his life, Laura, waiting for him on the outside, and a decent job from a good friend. But then something terrible happens, Shadow is called into the Warden’s office and told his wife has been killed in a car crash. This occurs days before he was to be released and reunited with her. He’s devastated. As a result of her death, the prison lets him go early.
After his release and on his way to attend the funeral of his beloved wife, a man by the name of Wednesday tries to employ him, and this where the book takes off. Wednesday wants an errand boy, a driver, and someone to give his eulogy should he die. What he doesn’t tell Shadow is that he’s an old god, one of the greats, and his latest quest is to save the old gods from extinction.
The story gets a bit weird here. Shadow ends up joining up with Wednesday and meeting a whole cast of characters, old gods, new gods, and some fickle characters in between. It’s a romp in a fantastical realm, where old gods once conquered the hearts and souls of men, but now fight for their survival.
The story pits the old gods against their modern counterparts. The new gods of the internet and public relations have no interest in keeping Thor or his historical brothers in the world. They’re working against them to try to stamp out their existence.
The book does a great job pulling together all these mythical characters and breathing quality, non-cardboard cutout lives to them. The book sheds light on how we worship new technology, just as our ancestors worshiped their mythical sky creatures.
My favorite part of the book came by way of asides to the main narrative. These after-chapter jaunts into a god’s singular creation seemed to be the best written part of the books. We see a brother and sister sold into slavery in Africa, travel to Barbados and the US respectively, and transform into god’s among their people there, leading a revolution in Barbados and healing family in the US tale. There are other asides throughout the novel too.
I’ve not read any other Gaimon, and American Gods is a good ten years old. But I think it’s worth a read if you’re at all intrigued by the old gods.