book-reviews

American Gods

by Neil Gaiman

Rating: ★★★★

American Gods is a modern fantasy novel which blends a selection of ancient mythological figures into the background of modern America, pitting them against the 'new gods' of technology, television and secret yet menacing government agencies in a war for the souls of America.

Our window into this world is Shadow, a character who seems to play on the failings of modern readers and viewers. He is almost utterly without motive, simply reacting to each event thrown into his life, taking the easiest path at each step. While this is a little frustrating at points, it's actually beneficial in ways -- the protagonist is uninteresting compared to the characterful gods he interacts with, and it's pleasing that he gets out of their way. Speaking of characters, the star of the show is undoubtedly Wednesday, also known as Woden, Grimm and Odin. The Norse God reveals himself to be the perfect roaming con-man, and one of the few old gods capable of handling the modern world.

Notably sidestepped in a book about gods and America is much discussion of Christianity. A throwaway reference to Jesus having struck it big is as close as it comes. Perhaps Gaiman needs to dare to be a bit controversial here, as it would make for an interesting study of an old-style god going strong in the modern world, and the fractious belief network only makes it more interesting.

With an intriguing premise and some well-placed humour, American Gods makes a good, light fantasy read. Suitable for readers migrating from more mainstream novels without being too dull for those from fantasy backgrounds, it casts a novel light on the imported mythology of a nation.