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Published on June 11th, 2014 | by Michaela Buckley

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American Gods – Neil Gaiman

Usually when a graphic novel or comic book writer takes to the pen with the aim of writing a novel, the result is usually an action-packed sweepf of comic style narrative, with the only difference being the addition of a few adjectives, but when Gaiman does it, he can’t help but beguile you into reading a ornately woven and multi-layered story that seems to unreal to believe came from such humble foundations.

America has always been a country that has struggled with its identity, whether its trying to find out what the Great American Novel is or what the American Dream ought to be, there’s never a moment when America isn’t trying to forge its own path on a world wrought with disillusioned historical sentiment.

To try to write a novel that tackles the American outlook on these themes is not so unusual, but to represent an entire world’s worth of culture that America has collected and represent it in an effectively ‘American’ way, well…

For a British novelist to even attempt the feat is nothing short of ballsy, if not, entirely arrogant, but as a plot must march forth so must a writer and their muse. American Gods is a work of more than just observation, it’s a repetoire of the lore and theology that has contributed to the nation, it is a fly-on-the-wall of their society and a fly-in-your-face of American culture.

American Gods Red cover

Neil Gaiman is revealed as more than fit for the immense task as he writes without a trace of Anglicism. There isn’t a sardonic viewpoint, atypical of the English writer, the writing is self-reflective to the point of being downright deceptively American.

From the moment that the novel begins, “Shadow had done three years in prison.”, you can tell this isn’t like any other fantasy book you have ever read, high or urban. You are told little about why he was incarcerated and lots about how he managed to get through it, as he is released he discovers his wife has just died and is soon approached by a mysterious man who offers him a job.

Alongside the main narrative are shorter tales about various deities and folklore creatures which have made their way to America, offering insight into the background and setting of American Gods. Old gods are brought to the continent by immigrants and colonists, creating a different version of the god for America, where in the modern day, they are struggling to be recognised and subsequently, survive with such dwindling beliefs.

The tone is rather melancholic, the characters and the environment are bleak and manage to sport a black comedy which is more at home in a less fantastical book. Some of the elements of the plot are rather twisted, enjoyably so, and others are almost romantic in content, although neither would be enough to sell the novel to someone on.

The wealth of knowledge and lore that is in the book is really what makes it stand out, where others make some half-arsed attempt at mythological elements, none are as successful or convincingly expressed as can be found in American Gods, whose own adventures make for a fitting addition to the current respective canons.

Slow-paced, there are times when the story decelerates to a crawl, allowing a little bit too much time to pore over niggling details, despite the novel wrapping up well, this pacing can still be a little dull at times.

American Gods is a beautifully presented fantasy novel which surpasses the ordinary expectations of its genre to become a modern fantasy epic for a more mature and discerning readership. The depth and scope are immense and has a gritty finish that leaves the patient reader wanting to see a little more of the astounding world of gods new and old in the land of the free.

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