Friday, September 8, 2017

Book Review: American Gods by Neil Gaiman

I had a chance to revisit a long version of Neil Gaiman's great fantasy novel after reading it several years ago and enjoyed it all the more. With the adaptation of the novel into a television show, I interested to compare and think they did a decent job bringing this story to life. Shadow is getting out of prison when he hears that his wife had died. With nothing to go home to, Shadow returns home on a plane where he meets Mr. Wednesday, a strange con man with strange abilities. Wednesday offers him a job but Shadow thinks he has a job waiting for him because he doesn't yet know that his wife Laura was sleeping with his best friend who had offered to employ Shadow at the gym he owned. Without a job and with no family, Shadow agrees to work with Wednesday. In order to seal the deal, he'll have to drink mead and during the drinks, he fights a leprechaun, Mad Sweeney. Winning the fight, Shadow obtains a golden coin that contains certain powers.

In an absurd turn of events, Shadow flips the magic coin into Laura's grave after learning that she'd been cheating on him with his best friend. This action brings Laura back to life but she's still sort of dead. Shadow is accosted by a strange man in a limo with weird bodyguards. They beat up Shadow until Laura, undead, saves him. Once Shadow is working with Mr. Wednesday, they set out across the country as Mr. Wednesday meets with various gods trying to rally them against the new gods. Television, technology, and the world are encroaching on the worship of these old gods and once no one worships to them, they pass on from existence. This is different from death, gods can die but come back, though they may be slightly changed. One of the first gods that they encounter are the three sisters that trade off their times of day and Czernobog. Shadow enters a game of chess with the god who loves slaughter and the stakes are high because if Shadow loses he'll be smashed in the head and if he wins, they'll join in Wednesday plan.

Shadow loses but Czernobog still agrees to help. Wednesday grows his army and needs the cash to support his travels. He pulls off a scam taking the deposits from a bank during a blizzard that Shadow seemed to cause mentally. Wednesday is constantly on the con and he lays out several tricks that he can pull, all of this comes back around to the clever conclusion of the book. There are places that contain a power for the gods as people come to worship there or used to worship there. Shadow is given the chance to step beyond the veil of what normal humans see and go beyond the realm of reality. In an old museum, Wednesday leads a meeting of the other gods but Shadow has a hard time understanding what is happening. He stays at a funeral parlor for a while and finds Mad Sweeney dead after he gives him money for a bottle.

The hunt is one for Shadow and Wednesday as Mr. World leads his agents to catch them. Framed for murder, Shadow is forced to flee up to a frozen town, a small town that has a strange sort of prosperity along with odd traditions. Shadow acclimates to the cold and finds bonds there but is soon outed for using a fake identity and arrested. Other gods help him escape and they have to retrieve Mr. Wednesday's body as he's been murdered by the enemy gods. At the center of the country, they have a truce with the other gods and retrieve the body at midnight though Shadow has a suspicious encounter with his old cellmate and another god, Loki. There is a ceremony that must be performed at a sacred tree and Shadow has to hang himself on the tree as a sacrifice.

Throughout the book, Shadow has weird dreams where a talking buffalo gives him odd messages about the country. The other gods, new and old, are gathering in Rock City, a tourism site I used to frequent as a kid. Gaiman imbues the place with a special power as all sorts of wild deities arrive. Shadow comes to the conclusion that his connection to Mr. Wednesday, Odin, is deeper than he first realized and this changes everything he knew about his job and heritage. Shadow returns to the land of the living with the help of East, a god who is closely associated with resurrection. He confronts Wednesday and Loki for a twisty finale. American Gods is an incredibly enjoyable book that even enthralled me on the second read. I was read the extended version but could hardly remember what happened the first time. The other twist in the small cold town is also one of my favorite parts of this book. Maybe in another decade I'll read it again. 

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