american godsNeil Gaiman
William Morrow
2001

Released from prison, Shadow finds his world turned upside down.  His wife has been killed; a mysterious stranger offers him a job.  But Mr. Wednesday, who knows more about Shadow than is possible, warns that a storm is coming – a battle for the very soul of America…and they are in its direct path.

American Gods is the fourth prose novel of author Neil Gaiman.  And if you don’t recognize the name of Neil Gaiman, you should properly be ashamed of yourself, and rectify this glaring oversight by going out and purchasing at least five of the collected Trade Paperback collections of his Sandman series.  And then read them.  Repeatedly.  Go, forget about this review, and do it now.

As for the rest of you who do (or just ignored my admonishment and continued reading), American Gods should be familiar territory by now.  There’s the unmistakable style of bringing the dark fantasy and wonder of classic storytelling into a modern setting that Gaiman does smashingly.  Here, he takes the stories of ancient folklore and mythology, and explores the notion of what they’re like in this day and age where they’re not believed in completely like in the old days.  Instead, new gods have appeared, gods of technology and drugs and fame, young and brash gods that don’t think much of sharing the world with the old guard.  So, Norse god Odin (going by the name Mr. Wednesday, as it’s the day of the week named after him…look it up) enlists the help of a convict freshly released from prison to help him gather together a number of the old gods to ultimately confront the new American gods to teach the young whipper-snappers a thing or two.  Only, Odin may not be completely on the up-and-up…and that former convict may be a bit more than just the sum of his parts.

American Gods, as it was the first Gaiman novel I’ve read, was a well-written yarn that was most definitely a modern dark fantasy that would resonate for both fans of the British author’s work, and just fans of dark fantasy in general.  However, it does tend to get long in the tooth, and the majority of the book is really more of a road trip story, with the actual confrontation between the old gods and the new gods being a bit anticlimactic.  This is not to say that American Gods wasn’t above and beyond a really good novel.  It is, and for the most part I think that Gaiman executed the concept brilliantly.  I should also point out that there was a 10 Year Anniversary edition, which has the “author’s preferred text”, including an additional 12,000 words that weren’t included in the original publishing.  I would put American Gods squarely into the Recommended Reading pile, and urge you to check it out.

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