by Neil Gaiman
Genre: fiction, fantasy, urban fantasy, science fiction
Days before his release from prison, Shadow’s wife, Laura, dies in a mysterious car crash. Numbly, he makes his way back home. On the plane, he encounters the enigmatic Mr Wednesday, who claims to be a refugee from a distant war, a former god and the king of America.
Together they embark on a profoundly strange journey across the heart of the USA, whilst all around them a storm of preternatural and epic proportions threatens to break.
Scary, gripping and deeply unsettling, American Gods takes a long, hard look into the soul of America. You’ll be surprised by what – and who – it finds there…
American Gods is a complex novel with amazing amount of detail regarding mythology whether it is Slavic, Norse, African (from various ethnic groups and eras as far as I could determine) or Native American. Then there is our protagonist Shadow. I really liked him and I was so anxious about the way Wednesday is manipulating him all the time that I could barely put the book down. There’s just something utterly likeable about him and the way he moves through the steadily more confusing and dangerous world as gods battle it out over America. He’s the human perspective on the world of gods and their war, but also a philosophical look into the nature of belief itself. Just what affect do our ideas, attitudes have on other people?
“Gods die. And when they truly die they are unmourned and unremembered. Ideas are more difficult to kill than people, but they can be killed, in the end.”
The whole power struggle between the old gods and the gods of the modern era – the television and the internet for example – is a brilliant idea and I really liked their portrayal and how their whole attitude reflected the worst in people nowadays. The old gods are mostly feeling betrayed by their diminishing strength, but their old battles amongst themselves make a united fight against the new interlopers almost impossible. Wednesday is determined to change that and he uses Shadow to achieve his goals. The old gods in many ways reflect the cruel and ruthless nature of people, and the new gods reflect the new preoccupation with fame, entertainment, and meaningless things of our time.
“Religions are, by definition, metaphors, after all: God is a dream, a hope, a woman, an ironist, a father, a city, a house of many rooms, a watchmaker who left his prize chronometer in the desert, someone who loves you—even, perhaps, against all evidence, a celestial being whose only interest is to make sure your football team, army, business, or marriage thrives, prospers, and triumphs over all opposition. Religions are places to stand and look and act, vantage points from which to view the world. So none of this is happening. Such things could not occur. Never a word of it is literally true.”
There are so many intrigues, so many old wounds and rules to follow among old gods. It’s really fascinating how Gaiman puts the puzzle pieces together and breathes new life into old deities and their roles in human lives. Tightly interwoven plots and fascinating characters make for fast reading although this is in no way an easy novel. There are many surreal qualities to the plot, a look beyond the veil so to speak where the various magical energies clash together to create utterly bizarre places and rules. Gaiman is incapable of dampening his imagination, so be prepared for anything. 😀 You’ll get your share of dream sequences that offer quite a lot of foreshadowing but done is such a subtle way you won’t get spoiled.
“People believe, thought Shadow. It’s what people do. They believe, and then they do not take responsibility for their beliefs; they conjure things, and do not trust the conjuration. People populate the darkness; with ghosts, with gods, with electrons, with tales. People imagine, and people believe; and it is that rock solid belief, that makes things happen.”
I loved this complexity and the unknown places Gaiman takes us together with our protagonist Shadow. A lot of travelling gives you the opportunity to explore a different side to the USA. In fact, the entire novel is one long journey in the best of American tradition but you might get dizzy by the constant changes of places, houses, and states. A map of the USA might not be amiss if you’re not well-versed in your geography. 😀 But the visits to various places aren’t of the harmless kind. Shadows gets to see the dark, evil ways of blindly following old customs and rituals, the effects of people’s belief in things, the decay of old myths and reimagining of old harmful practices, but also the endless ability of people to consciously overlook certain things if it benefits them.
“The TV’s the altar. I’m what people are sacrificing to.’
‘What do they sacrifice?’ asked Shadow.
‘Their time, mostly,’ said Lucy. ‘Sometimes each other.”
The book has a unique flow – there are places where you speed by and wish you had slowed down and there are parts where you take your time and enjoy the scenery. I certainly hoped to read more about Native American myths and creatures. I also wanted to read more stories about the way the gods arrived in America. The few glimpses we got of the creatures arriving with settlers were fantastic!
“There’s never been a true war that wasn’t fought between two sets of people who were certain they were in the right. The really dangerous people believe they are doing whatever they are doing solely and only because it is without question the right thing to do. And that is what makes them dangerous.”
American Gods is so worth reading and it might even worm into your subconscious and take possession of your dreams. Just saying – be prepared for some whacko dreams from reading this book. It gets under your skin (like all Neil Gaiman books do) and fires up the synapses, digging up the fragments of your own knowledge of myths and folklore, adds a dose of introspection and voila! – vivid dreams with surprisingly familiar elements. 😀 I didn’t mind, so I hope other readers won’t either. Gaiman is a master of introspection, digging into things you never thought about – whether it be childhood dreams and experiences, or the deep caverns of our collective subconscious.
“Fiction allows us to slide into these other heads, these other places, and look out through other eyes. And then in the tale we stop before we die, or we die vicariously and unharmed, and in the world beyond the tale we turn the page or close the book, and we resume our lives.”
Starz is producing a TV adaptation of the novel with filming starting in March 2016. I can’t wait. 😀