Fiction reviews: Yes, American Gods is an oldie, but a goldie. Neil Gaiman finds magic in this cynical old world in this mythical tall-tale of epic proportions.
My first reaction to Neil Gaiman was ‘hell to the no.’ See, I don’t do fantasy. I don’t do battles and swords and Elves. I can stretch as far as ‘Harry Potter’ but that’s about all the magic I can handle in a book. But when I saw the cover of ‘American Gods’, something appealed to the Faux-merican in me so I snapped it up for my holiday read and got lost in Gaiman’s beautifully woven, modern day epic.
At its core, American Gods is a road story. Shadow, our likeable convict of a protagonist, is fresh out of prison and mourning his wife’s death when he is approached by Mr Wednesday, an ancient god in disguise, to take a journey across America and into the heart of mythology and belief.
On this road trip, Gaiman creates some lush set pieces, from funeral homes, small town USA and scummy cities to real-life locations, like the truly bizarre House on the Rock with its weird and wonderful indoor carousel. The America he shows us is a melting pot of old lore in a new world. In between the main chapters he gives us mini-legends, stories of how the old gods came to be and how they ended up lost in modern day America. A nice twist… embedding the tales within the story gives us a sense of a good old yarn, going off on tangents but always enchanting us.
If you are a mythology geek then you definitely will enjoy playing Spot the God as the various deities of ancient cultures, from Old Norse to Ancient Egypt, put in cameos. If you’re not, it doesn’t spoil your understanding at all. In fact, it gave me a hankering to find out some more. (My ‘Penguin Book of Norse Myths’ is on order right now.)
Regardless of my lack of mythological knowledge I found a fantastic story inside, a post-modern epic in which the beliefs of the old world are replaced with the slick and superficial gods of the new, technology and celebrity. As the beauty of these old beliefs begins to fade, these new gods wage war with their new power, fuelled by the world’s need to believe in something, anything.
This literary fantasy ticks all the boxes. Magic grounded in reality with violence, cons, tall tales and a not so sentimental romance that makes for a story that draws together in a satisfying conclusion. A mix of legend, traveller’s tales and detective fiction makes this an excellent book for both fantasy fans and non-believers. Above all, it’s a proper story, so put your feet up and grab a cup of tea and get stuck into a proper cracking tale.
This review refers to the ‘Author’s Preferred Text’ edition. It’s longer than the original edition but (which I have not read) but more words means more fun, right?
Buy American Gods