American Gods by Neil Gaiman

Having read Good Omens, Gaiman’s collaboration with Terry Pratchett, I certainly did look forward to reading one of his solo works. But like Good Omens, I felt unsatisfied at the end because it all worked out rather too neat.

Hang on to that thought because we’ll come back to it later…

The plot revolves around the likeable ex-con Shadow, fresh out of prison, who allows himself to be drafted into service as a bodyguard of sorts to an ageing con-man Mr. Wednesday, who later reveals himself to be Odin, a God of the Norse pantheon. The unlikely duo travel across America attempting to enlist the aid of various other mythological Gods, who we learn have been brought over to America [through the act of belief] from the old countries by an assortment of immigrants. The recruitment drive is to create a force to participate in an impending battle with the New Gods represented by modern technology, the media, celebrities etcetera.

Along the way we meet crotchety characters such Czernobog and Mama Ji who is the Indian God Kali, and rather likeable Gods such as Mr. Ibis and Mr. Jacquel representing the Gods Thoth and Anubis respectively. But there are other in-between Gods such as Easter (Eostre) and Mr. Nancy (Ananzi), and the supposed bad guys representing the New Gods with names like Mr. Town and Mr. World, who is also the known as Low-Key Lyesmith, otherwise known as Loki.

The human characters along the way do not play significant parts in the plot except for Shadows’ dead wife [yes, dead wife], Sam Black Crow and girl he meets while driving across the States and Chad Mulligan, a police officer in a small town which features prominently in te book.

Not wanting to give away too much about the myriad twists and turns and the special reltionships between the various characters, both Gods and humans alike, I’m going to leave it at that. But I now go back to the ending which I mentioned earlier.

I would have liked to see a messy ending, where either the Old Gods get their asses kicked, or even the New Gods. But Gaiman decided to let Shadow intervene between the warring sides and end the battle peacefully, with hardly any casualties. Maybe he was trying to tell us that the Old Gods can live side by side with the New. Or that the Old Gods are so inbuilt into our psyche’s that they will stay there for a very long time, if not forever. Or that the New Gods can’t be killed as they are the future.

However you look at it, it’s a compromise we’ll have to live with…

At the time of writing this review, HBO is developing a TV series of the book for airing some time around 2013, with Tom Hanks producing. It’s something to look forward to.