American Gods, by Neil Gaiman. Pub 2001
My longest read so far, but totally worth it. I’m not normally a fantasy-genre reader, but a) I’d heard from several reliable readers that this book was good, b) there’s a mini-series out now based on it, which looks very good after the first few episodes*, c) I needed a break from Robertson Davies, and d) was marked to-be-read on my e-reader while I was on vacation.
I would call this an epic – a longish tale, that covers a lot of territory in several respects. The focus is on America (obviously), and specifically the continental US. The premise is that the old gods – Norse, Indian, Chinese, African – exist wherever there are people who believe in them. So, as migrants from around the world came to the US, they brought their gods with them. “Exist” is literal here – they take corporeal form and create their own hierarchies and mischief. But as people stop believing in them, the fortunes of the gods change, with most of them becoming minor criminals on the fringes of society. No American dream for these immigrants.
But bright shiny America has new belief systems. And from these, new gods begin to appear – credit, media, cars, internet, bureaucracy and government agencies. For the most part, gods new and old live a peaceful if acrimonious co-existence, until a troublemaker among them decides that this country isn’t big enough for all of them. One side must go. War is needed.
From there, a non-god is recruited to play a role and, for all intents and purposes, be a witness to the emerging war, and so we see the story much from his immersed perspective. Life with gods is often difficult and unpleasant, with more pain and sorrow and confusion than enlightenment and peace.
But the resulting story is engaging, dramatic, fun, and edge-of-your-seat exciting. I stayed up many a late night reading, with that “just one more chapter” urge very often. The writing style is good (better than I’d experienced previously with this author), and the story is both broad and personal, and in the end complete; I always give extra marks to authors who remember to go back and tell you whatever-happened-to for minor but key characters. I found the characterizations of the individual gods very well done, really what one might expect of a god fallen on hard times. Many I did not recognize as I’d never heard of them (I will need to look-up a character key at some point), but their individual powers and images added great texture, and sometimes some great comic relief.
Overall, I’d recommend but only if a long, gritty, and not overly happy tale is your cup of tea.
7. A book written by a male author
9. A book that is (or is becoming) a film (a miniseries in this case)
13. A book set somewhere you’ve never been
17. A book with a place name in the title
* I never finished the mini-series, as I found the pacing very slow and the narrative exposition quite heavy-handed and unnecessary. Scenes that were just a few pages in the book were taking an excruciatingly long time in the tv version. The series has now extended to three seasons, suggesting it has either gone well beyond the original story or has slowed the pace such that the show takes longer to watch than the book to read.