Book Review: American Gods by Neil Gaiman
American Gods is an award-winning novel by Neil Gaiman. Although it was released in 2001, it is new to me. Back then, I was firmly entrenched in reading Harry Potter and Narnia to my kids. I didn't spend a whole lot of time discovering new (to me) authors, instead whenever I had time to devote to myself I would pick up the latest book by my favorite author of the time. I wasn't actively looking for anything new and different, so I really feel like I missed out here.
Come with me through the jump and I'll tell you why I'm, so glad I finally found this modern classic, and why you should check it out, too!
In American Gods, Mr. Gaiman suggests that gods and mythological creatures exist because people believe in them. Once people forget about them, their power is diminished. Other gods rise up to take their places, which reflect America's obsession with television, celebrity, technology, and the internet. This is a very interesting premise: in today's age, because so much public interest is focused on those things, are they being worshiped?
The central character is Shadow, a man who is about to be released from prison. He is an intelligent, reserved man whose life falls apart when his wife, Laura, and best friend are killed in a car accident. After receiving the bad news, he is given an early release. His trip home from prison is interrupted by Wednesday, a mysterious stranger. Although he is initially very wary of Wednesday, he eventually agrees to work for him. He discovers Wednesday is, in fact, a version of Odin, the Norse god of knowledge and wisdom. Wednesday is on a mission to enlist the aid of other mythological gods in an upcoming battle for supremacy against the new American gods, lead by Mr. World. Shadow meets many gods and mythological creatures, including a leprechaun named Mad Sweeney. After a barroom brawl, Mad Sweeney gives Shadow a magical gold coin. After Shadow tosses the coin onto his Laura's grave, she is brought back to life as a revenant. Laura watches over Shadow and protects him from danger, using lethal force when necessary.
Eventually, Shadow is forced into hiding in the idyllic town of Lakeside. Under an assumed name, he finds friendship and acceptance with the townspeople, but gradually suspects something is not quite right with the town. Lakeside is perfect, except for the fact that every year, one child vanishes and is never seen again. When his past is brought to light, his peaceful respite comes to an end.
A turning point comes when Wednesday is killed by the new gods, and the formerly reluctant gods are finally motivated to war. Shadow gradually comes to realize that Wednesday and Mr. World had been working a two-man con. Furthermore, Mr. World is revealed to be his former cell mate, Low Key Lyesmith, better known as Loki, the Norse god of mischief. Mr. World had ordered the death of Wednesday, which lead to the battle between the old and new gods. The battle served to be a sacrifice to Odin, restoring his power. Loki would then feed off the mischief. Sneaky, huh?
After the battle, Shadow returns to Lakeside and discovers the secret behind the missing children. One of the townspeople is a kobold, an ancient Germanic household god. He protected and blessed the town, but took one child per year as a sacrifice. With Shadow's help, the kobold is defeated and the town's children are once again safe, although the town's prosperity will, no doubt, be diminished.
I just have to say, this is one of the most interesting books I've read in quite some time. Mr. Gaiman has done a wonderful job combining mythology from a wide variety of cultures and pitting it against the media and other technological advances.
In July 2014, Starz announced they were planning to adapt American Gods for a television series. Ironic, isn't it?