You work for me now. You protect me. You transport me from place to place. You run errands. In an emergency, but only in an emergency, you hurt people who need to be hurt. In the unlikely event of my death, you will hold my vigil. And in return I shall make sure that your needs are adequately taken care of.
-Shadow’s new job description
Well. Neil Gaiman never does anything small, does he?
Fair warning: this is not a book for younger readers. This is not only due to content, but the fact that there are stretches which, honestly, will bore younger readers. Older readers, on the other hand-especially ones familiar with Gaiman’s writing style-will appreciate it more.
American Gods is set in what we like to think of as “the real world”. A fellow named Shadow is about to be released from prison, and looking forward to using his second chance with his wife to stay out of trouble. Unfortunately, tragedy strikes his wife and Shadow finds himself out in a bleaker world. Without his wife and without prospects, he is approached by a mysterious stranger calling himself Wednesday. Shadow is offered a job with Wednesday, and after some convincing accepts.
With that, Shadow begins a journey that takes him across the paths of…well, gods. And the gods are dividing into two camps. The first camp consists of the old gods, those of legend and myth (and be sure, a good chunk of them are extremely obscure; I’ve not heard of several, and I used to think of myself as pretty up on that kind of thing). They are also in danger of becoming extinct, as mankind’s belief has faded. Many take up rather unusual occupations in order to remain in existence. The second camp consists of the gods that seem to be worshipped by people now.
No, I’m not talking about the usual religions. I’m talking about Technology, the Internet, the Media, Credit Cards, and the like. They’re the wave of the future, and they want to sweep away the refuse of past ages-and they aren’t too choosy about methods used to do so. Where the old gods are just hanging on, the new ones are eager to make their marks, and the old ones aren’t quite ready to get together to do something about it…until Wednesday sticks his nose in (and I expect many of my visitors here can figure out who Wednesday is…although I was caught flat footed by another character, whom I really shouldn’t have missed).
This is a fairly deep novel. Gaiman has touched upon the concept of old gods fading away as belief faded in the comic book series The Sandman (which, incidentally, I recommend to anyone-it definitely isn’t a kid’s series); here, he takes it to a new level, introducing new gods that seem to fit the commercialism of today’s society. He also makes the point that America just isn’t a good place for gods, as it seems to pick up trends. It’s an interesting train of thought, even if I don’t exactly agree with some points.
As far as characters go: Shadow’s the main character here. Most of the characters in the book interact with him, including his wife (yes, I know she died; it didn’t stop her much), Wednesday, and other gods of both camps (I especially loved his game of checkers with one. “Best of three” indeed). Shadow also will confront secrets about himself that he never suspected. Wednesday shows himself to be a consummate con artist, although he is aided by certain facts about himself. In addition to gods, there are also references to the American folk legends (Paul Bunyan is mentioned, although a couple others actually make appearances).
Fans of Gaiman will, I expect, enjoy American Gods, as will the fans of writers like Stephen King’s less horrific books. I’d also recommend it for folks who enjoy deep thinking with their fantasy. It’s a deep book, and I expect I’ll be re-reading it and see more that catches my attention-there’s that much detail. It’ll be a nice way to fill up a few afternoons.