Friday, July 23, 2010

Book: American Gods by Neil Gaiman

One of my favorite authors is Neil Gaiman, who started out as a comic books writer and moved on to writing novels. His best work in comics was done in The Sandman series, which is epic and rich and I'm not going into it here, because I'd pretty much never stop talking about it. It's the only comic to ever win the World Fantasy Award (the rules were changed after it won, so no comics could ever be eligible again), and one of the few comics to ever make it to the New York Times best seller list. The Sandman comics also spawned the comic Lucifer, written by Mike Carey, which is another of my favorite comics series.

In American Gods, the main character is named Shadow. He's a big man, but quiet, and he's spent the past three years in prison for a crime he did commit. Two days short of his scheduled release, he learns that his wife has died in a car wreck, and he's released early, to attend her funeral.

On the plane home, he is bumped up to first class, and sat next to a one-eyed man who would like Shadow to work for him.

'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'

His name, which gives the clue to who he really is, is Mr. Wednesday. 'Let's see. Well, seeing that today is my day - why don't you call me Wednesday? Mister Wednesday. Although given the weather, it might as well be Thursday, eh?'

Shadow initially turns down his offer, but after he learns that the job he was supposed to have when he got out of jail died with his wife, he takes it, having nothing better to do with his life.

He drives Wednesday to and fro, and in the process gets to peak 'behind the stage', and learns that the gods are real, and they are living in America. They were brought here with the people who believed in them. Odin and Thor, they came with the Vikings. The slaves brought their gods, the Chinese, the Aztecs, everyone who made it to America brought a their god, and planted them here. But here's the problem.

'This is a bad land for gods.'

America kills gods and spits out new ones, and kills them too. The land doesn't want gods, and they struggle to survive here. And the old gods are slowly dying off, without believers. They're being replaced with gods of technology and paranoia, though those gods don't have much of a shelf life either.

So Mr. Wednesday, believing that the new gods are moving to kill off the old ones, finally, to take all the worship and life for themselves, is trying to rally the old gods to him, to take the battle to them, and to save their own lives.

Or at least, that's the story that Mr. Wednesday would like Shadow and every other god to believe. But Wednesday is a grifter, above anything else. And you can't trust him.

One thing to keep in mind, in this book? Wednesday's favorite con is a two man con.

'"I'm alive" said Shadow "I'm not dead. Remember?"

"You're not dead" Laura said "But I'm not sure you're alive, either. Not really"'

It's an excellent story, reminiscent in places of the old heroic epics, and for good reason. It's mean to echo them, to bring them into the modern world. You have the hero, beaten down and tempered by fate, the gods, messing with humanity, the journey to bring back a dead loved one. Good, evil, magic, tricks, innocent blood being spilled, and things never being quite where or what you believe they should be.

And the concept with the gods is interesting. They only exist because people believed in them. They grow weak without that faith, without sacrifices, without rituals. And humanity invented the rules that the gods have to work by, thinking that the gods invented the rules. And then the people, eventually, forgot about the gods, replaced them with new ones, but the old gods don't die, they don't cease to exist. Not yet, anyway.


  1. This sounds fantastic! On my list!

  2. LK,

    Excellent. It's a very, very good book. :)

  3. That does sound really good. I like the concept of gods that you described in the last paragraph. Glad you shared!

  4. My all-time favorite book, I think. I was squeeing just reading your summary, and I think now I will have to go read the book again. Yay!

  5. Susanne,

    It's *very* good. It should be required reading!

  6. sanil,

    It's definitely up there on my list too. :)

    Yay! American Gods is one of those books I can reread over and over again, and it doesn't lose anything.


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