by Neil Gaiman
Publication Date: 2013 (first published 2001)
Days before his release from prison, Shadow’s wife, Laura, dies in a mysterious car crash. Numbly, he makes his way back home. On the plane, he encounters the enigmatic Mr Wednesday, who claims to be a refugee from a distant war, a former god and the king of America.
Together they embark on a profoundly strange journey across the heart of the USA, whilst all around them a storm of preternatural and epic proportions threatens to break.
Scary, gripping and deeply unsettling, American Gods takes a long, hard look into the soul of America. You’ll be surprised by what – and who – it finds there…
I’m really bad at rating books, but a 5-star book is DEFINITELY anything that forced me to sit and re-evaluate my life afterwards. In which case, American Gods is at the absolute top of my list of 5-Star books. Although maybe that was also because I finished reading it on an airplane, as I was coming back to Berlin after a three-week trip around Europe, and the view of my city from the plane was just as much of a ‘holy shit’ moment as the book.
Anyways, take it at my word that American Gods is amazing. Better yet, let me show you.
The book starts when Shadow, our main character, gets out of prison only to learn that his wife has died in a car crash. Shortly afterwards, he learns that she died tangled up rather…intimately…with his best friend, who was also his boss, and he’s subsequently out of a job. A stranger on the plane home, offering his name as Mr. Wednesday, hires him as a general assistant and, after fighting a leprechaun and winning, Shadow takes the job. The gods are still among us, he learns, albeit in forms that few worshippers would really be used to. And there’s about to be a war between them…
OK, I can’t explain it. Or I can, but I definitely can’t do it justice. It’s a healthy heap of mythology–not a hint of the rather-overused Greek/Roman Mythology, but it digs down into the real strangeness and creepiness of other mythologies. Example: did you know that Odin was given hanged sacrifices? It’s also a lot of road trip story, as Shadow drives to places in the US you wouldn’t imagine were actually real, or that anyone would want to visit. It’s a bit of a coming-of-age, despite the fact that Shadow is in his late twenties-early thirties, and it shows how he manages to come into his own when someone gives him the chance to be more than ordinary. It’s a book about so, so many things. Loyalty, love, family ties, the definition of good and bad, changing times, and gods.
If I tell you that this is probably Neil Gaiman’s Magnum Opus, this should tell you a lot. Considering that he is considered by many one of the most wonderful authors of our time, this should actually tell you quite a bit.
That being said, and also since this is a YA blog, I should point out that this is an adult book, and there are some references to sex, and that some of them verge into graphic. Parental warning, etc.
Despite this, I loved it. It’s a strange, warped, irreverent and slightly unsettling book, but when you get down to it there are so many things that I appreciated. There is a romance, kind of, but it’s less a love story than a search for redemption. I loved every single one of the characters, who were all so vividly painted, not just glowing but with their shadows as well. The plot, also, will keep you reading the entire day–I was never sure what twists would come, what new characters would emerge and where Shadow would end up next. And, when I think about it, I’m not sure there’s any truly evil character, just a whole range of characters painted in varying shades of grey.
And, to boot, this book has absolutely everything. Carousels, twisted ancient gods, con men, an epic fight for the future of the world, hangings, mysterious disappearances, apparently kindly old men, genuinely kindly old men, shamans, a gay djinn, a literal man-eater…I could list things forever. It presents a fascinating look at America, as a strange and wonderful and sometimes really weird place, but in Neil Gaiman’s usual way he manages to give you an entirely different view of a place you thought you’ve known all your life. He also takes something that seems like it should be sacred (ie, gods) and makes it UTTERLY human. Also he makes you rethink religion–or at least the concept of Gods. OK, maybe that was just me. And rethink your purpose in life (or is that also just me?)
Also worthy of note, there is an American Gods TV series coming out in the next year or so, pulling from this book and its companion Anansi Boys. Oh, and Gaiman’s been murmuring about a sequel for a little while as well. So fear not, this awesome stand-alone book is not actually an awesome stand-alone book.
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Disclaimer: The synopsis and cover picture were pulled from the book’s Goodreads page. Neither belong to us.