May 12, 2012
by Neil Gaiman
If you don't have, at the very least, a good working knowledge of gods - Norse, Hindu, Egyptian, African, Slavik, etc. - then do not touch this book. Don't dare touch it. Because if you do and find that you got bored with it, you will be doing a terrible disservice not just to it as a work of fiction, but also to its author (I am sure; sometimes distaste for a book translates to distaste for the author, which isn't fair).
On the other hand, if you're clueless even about the basics but can appreciate an ingenious, imaginative retelling of mythology and religion, then by all means pick up this book, sit back, relax and enjoy. (And then, after reading the book, you can fire up your laptop and Google away. I promise, it will all make sense.)
Me? I'm a little bit of both: I know about the essentials of Norse, Egyptian, and Hindu mythology, having read up on these through reference books and learned about them in school during my time. I am also a girl who can take some fantastical, good-weird work and appreciate it for what it is. (Plus, I'm a Neil Gaiman fan, so.)
So it should come as no surprise that American Gods would turn out to be one awesome book for me. This is my first full-length Neil Gaiman novel, and it merely solidified my admiration for him as a writer and storyteller.
American Gods has a simple plot: the gods of old are slowly being forgotten, their places of worship now being taken by the "new" gods. A clashing of these gods is inevitable, and somewhere in the middle of all this is our protagonist, Shadow, fresh out of prison and recruited by the odd Mr. Wednesday as his all-around man/bodyguard. Wednesday hauls Shadow's ass all across America in preparation for the impending storm, and Shadow can only follow suit.
I love the details and the work that went into this fantasy novel. The stories were intricately interwoven; you may find that some sub-stories may appear irrelevant to the general storyline, but believe me, they will all tie up in the end.
I also admire the thorough research that was undertaken to depict the gods as accurately and astutely as possible. Half of the time, I found myself racking my brain for stock knowledge on these mythologies. Admittedly, there were some that were completely foreign to me (e.g., the Morrigan, Ifrit, the Zoryas) but I'm happy to report that the gods that played quite significant roles were familiar, at least. There were points in the novel when I ventured guesses as to who the characters truly are, because as you go through the narrative, you will realize that each character is a representation of someone. Shadow, an enigma himself, proved to be a representation of a deity - I think. If you've brushed up recently on mythology, or would enjoy a refresher contained in roughly 600+ pages of well-thought out fictional work, then by all means read this book.
Ah yes, the weird names. Of course there's a reason for the weird names. You can't name a god something so ordinary, right, like Molly, or Sam, or Joe? Like I said: the gods were depicted in as accurate a manner as possible. Besides, the names are quite inconsequential in the grand scheme of things.
Neil Gaiman has always been a favorite writer because of his vivid and colorful imagination. I love American Gods because it is the product of this imagination, combined with mythology and religion, and maybe just a tad of mystery and suspense thrown in for good measure.
As I was reading the book, I would come up with theories about something I've just come across with, all of which I would tell my husband. Being the good guy that he is, he would just smile and tell me to keep reading - he's already read it several years back, and was in fact one of the people who have been endlessly egging me on to pick it up. Anyway. When I was nearing the best part of the book, I told him, "I know exactly what's going to happen next. Shadow will do this, and Wednesday will say this, and this is what will happen. I just know it." And this was my husband's simple answer: "Has there ever been a time that you were completely UNsurprised by a Neil Gaiman novel?"
American Gods proved that it will not be the first.
Still clueless as to the gods mentioned in American Gods? Check out this site. Remember: only the gods are real.