American Gods (Book Review)

Greetings Loved Ones! Liu Is The Name, And Views Are My Game.

And if you’re like me, you probably grew up reading Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson And The Olympians series. The epic story of a 12-year-old boy who discovers that he is actually the son of the Greek god Poseidon, the books are exciting, funny, filled with likable characters, and have introduced the people and places of Greek mythology to pre-teens everywhere. I loved them when I first read them, and they still hold a special place in my heart. One of my favorite aspects of the books is the whole idea that the old gods are still alive, and here in America. It’s a brilliant premise, and an extremely original one to boot.

Or is it? See, I recently discovered that, back in 2000, a whole five years before the release of the first Percy Jackson book, British graphic novelist Neil Gaiman wrote a story about the gods of old still being alive, and in this country. When I heard this, I knew that I had to give this earlier novel, American Gods, a look. Well, I did that, and today, I’d like to share my thoughts on it with you all.

So, for those of you who haven’t read it, American Gods is the story of Shadow, an ex-con who finds work running errands for the Norse god Odin, or Mr Wednesday, as he likes to be called. The novel’s basic premise is that, when people immigrate to the United States, they bring they’re beliefs and customs with them. As such, the mythological figures from these immigrants’ homelands follow them across the sea to the New World, and exist here as well. Now, however, the descendants of these first immigrants have stopped believing in the old gods, and, as a result, they’ve become frail and weak. Instead, new gods–ones of television, internet, and big business–have sprung up, and are looking to exterminate the old timers.

This is an extremely interesting idea–a war between new and old gods with our world as the battleground–and Gaiman develops some really good characters. His prose is also very conversational, and easy to get into. So, why am I not as crazy about American Gods as I am about Percy Jackson?

Well, one reason could be the fact that certain characters, and plot lines, feel either unnecessary, or out of place. For instance, there’s a character that Shadow gives a ride to named Sam Black Crow, who shows up a few more times in the book, has several pages devoted to her life and backstory…and she serves absolutely no purpose. Seriously. It’s not like she’s his love interest, or helper. She never really contributes to the main storyline–that being Shadow and Odin traveling across the continental United States, recruiting Old Gods to fight in the war against the New ones. She just shows up from time to time, talks to him, and in one scene, kisses him. And that’s it. And it’s not even like the kiss she gives him is out of attraction–Gaiman establishes pretty early on that she’s a lesbian–so she really doesn’t serve any purpose. The only reason I can think he’d bring her up more than once is the fact that she lives in this small town that Shadow hides in for a period. And speaking of, the whole section where Shadow hides in the small town of Lakeside Michigan feels completely out of place. When I was reading that section, I thought I’d picked up a completely different novel, a David Lynch-type murder mystery, instead of the epic fantasy adventure I was promised.

And that’s the other thing I didn’t like about American Gods–its inability to keep focus on one story. The Percy Jackson series has just one protagonist, who is also the narrator. You therefore see everything from his perspective, and never leave his side. This, in turn, makes the story as a whole easier to follow. American Gods does have a protagonist, Shadow, but Gaiman has several chapters and interludes where he’s not even mentioned. I guess the reason Gaiman did this was to build a universe, to weave a complete tapestry . But, in the end, these cutaways and interludes ultimately prove distracting. And remember how I mentioned that the small town section felt really out of place? Well, it does, and its distracting too. If you’ve ever read the Lord Of The Rings trilogy, you know that Frodo destroying the ring isn’t the end. There’s a whole section after that where he, Sam, Merry and Pippin go back to the Shire, find that it’s been taken over by Saruman, and organize a Hobbit uprising. This section always felt completely out of place to me, and I’m honestly quite glad that Peter Jackson chose to leave it out of his film adaptation. It felt like a totally new novel, one that had just been tacked on as an after-thought to a previous one. The reason I bring this up is that American Gods has a similar situation. There’s a big climactic battle between the new gods and the old ones, and when it’s over, you think the story’s finished. But it isn’t. The book doesn’t end there. Shadow then goes back to the annoying town from earlier, and picks up a plot-thread that had been introduced, but no one had really cared about. As I was reading it, I kept asking myself, “Why is this here? Why is this here? The main story is the war between the old and the new gods, which is done. So, why is this here?” All I can say is that, if Gaiman hadn’t spent so much time on universe-building interludes, and just kept the focus on one story, the book would have been a lot better.

But, as I said before, this isn’t a bad book. The characters are well-rounded and likable, the world is interesting, and the prose itself is easy to get in to, and enjoyable to read. So, as many gripes as I might have with this novel, I can’t really give it a bad review. It’s a 7 out of 10. If you do read it, feel free to skip the sections with Sam and the small town.