Ideas are more difficult to kill than people, but they can be killed, in the end. Neil Gaiman
Coming into this post I thought about starting with a book I’d read before, something easy to set the tone, something I’d read cover to cover and loved each sentence and word. However, that just seemed too easy. So I chose a book I’d heard about in passing but had no idea what it was about. American Gods was as unknown to me as the offside rule, that is until roughly three weeks ago upon the release of Good Omens on Amazon Prime (would 100% recommend, 10/10) which lead me down the rabbit hole that was Neil Gaiman’s graphic novel based fame. I picked American Gods as although I have every respect for graphic novels I would have no idea where to start in reviewing it so I opted for one of his fiction works. Going into this I had no idea about the TV adaptation of this book and have made every effort to not Google it or investigate further as to not sway my opinion of the book itself.
I have to say that for my first read and review I could not have picked a worse book. I just had a really tough time getting into the story and motivating myself to read it. I admit to steaming through the last 50% of the book over Saturday and Sunday morning in order to finish in time to write this. American Gods did not fascinate me, it did not draw my attention immediately and I found my mind wandering a lot in the first 30-40%. I’m a huge nerd for other-worldly stories but I felt I was stepping into something hear I was not prepared for. Was the initial audience for this meant to be mythology nerds? I felt completely out of the loop until the last few pages, and even then I wasn’t 100% sure what I was meant to be thinking. Do you ever watch something with a friend and there are secret jokes referencing previous episodes or spin-offs to which they’re laughing hysterically and you just don’t get it? That is what the whole book felt like, like I was missing out on a really obvious joke.
This is not to say I did not enjoy this book. The story was truly original and Gaiman has a knack at creating other worlds within our own that are believable in every sense (which makes me super excited to read Good Omens when the time comes). The thought of Gods among us just posing as normal people is one of those stories that although you’re aware is fiction, how do you know this for sure? Gaiman creates the illusion that all of this is possible, and that normal folk are just simple bystanders in the much bigger picture, and to me this is the staple of good story telling. If you can make the unbelievable, believable, then you deserve to be awarded with the Best Novel at the Hugo Awards.
Now, the opening of this story (spoilers ahead!) shows the protagonist, Shadow, nearing the end of a three year prison sentence,. We learn he’s got a whole life waiting for him at home, a wife, a job and a best friend. Other than a brief stint in prison he has a lot going for him. But as we all know, happy endings do not last long unless you’re ready a good old Jane Austen novel. Shadow’s life comes crashing down and a series of weird events start happening in relation to the “Old Gods” who wiggle their way into Shadow’s life. He is recruited by ‘Mr. Wednesday’ to assist him, protect him and for unknown reasons, follow blindly without asking questions. This didn’t sit easily with me, there was a distinct lack of cautiousness with every character in this book. The parts of this book I enjoyed the most were in Lakeside, the sleepy little town that Shadow lays low in and reminds me of Stars Hallow of the Gilmore Girls TV show, where cautiousness was not necessary. This town is the basis of a subplot I ended up getting really invested in, and would have loved to see a separate story based on this, but more on this later. Lakeside provided a steady storyline where the changing scenery did not take away from the events happening in front of us which I felt had taken over a lot of other scenes.
Every good story has a twist, a sneaky, you’d never suspect it, twist. I won’t ruin this one, but from the start we know the protagonist, we know the mentor figure and we know more than we think. All is revealed toward the end, the reason for the entire “war” between Gods, the new and old is something I could never have predicted with Gaiman laying the building blocks in the first few chapters.
The subplot was amazing, my love of murder mystery shone through here and I desperately wanted to read more on this. Gaiman starts subtly planting the roots of the story on Shadow’s first arrival to Lakeside and gradually it becomes a more present narrative until it finally comes to full light in the last chapters. A basic sum-up of the subplot is a series of children go missing every winter but no one seems to connect the dots until Shadow gets involved and I loved even the small moments dedicated to this narrative. I am grateful this was included in the book, it provided a slight detour from the main story that was a brief relief in my opinion. If anyone could suggest similar stories I would be very interested.
My favourite part in any story is when everything comes full circle, just small closures for the protagonist in order for them to move on. American Gods didn’t provide the “full circle feeling” I was looking for, the narrative followed Shadow making the separate efforts to see a few of the remaining characters for closure. It didn’t feel natural reading through the final pages, it felt forced and I couldn’t help but think it could have come through in a different way not so systematic.
American Gods is a good and solid read, if you can dedicate time to really paying attention to the story. If you read it like I did, with initially little motivation you will not enjoy it because you will become lost in a sea of references you don’t understand and characters you hadn’t realised had been a part of the scene. The story itself is interesting and refreshingly different, okay I may be 18 years late to the party but even in that time I haven’t seen or read anything even remotely similar to this.
I would give this 3 stars, if I had the chance to re-read it with more time and focus I would maybe bump it up but my initial reaction is what caused the lack of motivation. I did not want to finish this book, if I hadn’t have promised myself that if I chose a book, I would finish it and write an honest review, I would have put it down and started something else. With that in mind I don’t think I could read it again, but I’d recommend it to anyone reading if they could dedicate the time because it truly does cover a great story of the American Gods.