“All we have to believe with is our senses: the tools we use to perceive the world, our sight, our touch, our memory. If they lie to us, then nothing can be trusted. And even if we do not believe, then still we cannot travel in any other way than the road our senses show us; and we must walk that road to the end.”
I’ve been wanting to read Neil Gaiman’s American Gods ever since I heard that Bryan Fuller was going to be involved in adapting it for TV. As a bookworm, of course I knew I had to read the book first, and I am so glad that I did.
Having spent the last three years in prison, quietly doing his time, Shadow is kept going by the promise of beginning a new life with his wife, Laura. However, only a few days before his release Shadow learns that Laura has been killed in a car accident, and his hopes unravel. Released early and on his way to Laura’s funeral, Shadow meets a mysterious man called Mr Wednesday, a con-artist and trickster looking for a bodyguard. With nothing left to lose, Shadow accepts the job, and soon finds himself part of a conflict between not men, but gods. This book takes Shadow on a roadtrip across America, and introduces him to powerful beings, gods that have been brought across the world by belief, many of whom have found themselves forgotten amidst the modern day gods, such as those of technology and media.
“All your questions can be answered, if that is what you want. But once you learn your answers, you can never unlearn them.”
American Gods is an incredibly engrossing and unique read. It’s the kind of book that completely captures the imagination, that pulls you into the story and holds you there until the end. In this book, Neil Gaiman brings together legendary gods and magical creatures, including figures from Norse to Egyptian mythology and places them in modern day America, facing a threat to their existence from the modern way of life.
American Gods follows a long and winding story that takes readers across a number of US states to meet these gods. This isn’t a fast-moving story, but a slow one, and is the kind of book that’s more about the journey than about the final destination. And every page of this journey feels masterfully crafted. Neil Gaiman’s writing flows from the page and captivates completely, so whilst I can understand why some people might find this book a little slow, for me, there wasn’t one part of this book I didn’t enjoy.
The story itself is incredibly unusual and in a number of places, just plain strange. There were a few times while reading this book that I had to go back and re-read a paragraph, because I couldn’t quite believe what I’d just read. While the writing in this book makes it feel very real, some of the events are so bizarre that I have no idea how Neil Gaiman came up with them.
“Tell him that we f***ing reprogrammed reality. Tell him that language is a virus and that religion is an operating system and that prayers are just so much f***ing spam.”
This book introduces a huge number of intriguing characters, the most vibrant being Mr Wednesday. Mr Wednesday is a morally ambiguous character steeped in mystery and charisma, and I can see why a lot of people love this character. Almost all the main characters take their inspirations from mythology, and whilst I know very little about the subject, they still stood out and I still had a good idea of the significance of each of the characters. I do think I would have enjoyed this book more if I had a better understanding of mythology, however, as I think there are a number of references and nods to legends that I probably missed.
My favourite character in the book is a bit of a spoiler for the first 60 pages of the book, so I’m sad that I can’t go into detail in this review. But I will say that there is a female character who I found very intriguing, morbid and creepy, and this was something I really liked. I just loved the way this character was written, and would have loved to read more of her story. In fact, I could have read an entire book from her point of view, so I’m actually sad I didn’t get to see more of her.
For me, the only real flaw with this book is that the story feels fairly directionless for large portions of the book. I can understand why this might be off-putting to some readers and why some people might find it difficult to keep reading, but at the same time, it feels like this is just the kind of book American Gods is. I have no real complaints about this book.
The key points to take away from this book are that it’s imaginative, clever, and the story flows perfectly. I would highly recommend this book, and I enjoyed it so much that I’ll be moving onto the TV series almost immediately.
“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.”