Book: American Gods
Author: Neil Gaiman
Published: 2002 (HaperCollins)
Between this and the Doctor Who episode he wrote for series six, I’m going to start calling myself an official Neil Gaiman fan. He’s a master at bringing the psychological to life where it dances around and swigs whiskey before putting on its top hat to either save or swindle the world.
Shadow is, I think, a great unintentional guide through a reader’s first Gaiman book. Shadow’s not dumb, but he’s quiet, knows how to blend it, and rolls with the weird shit that starts happening to him as soon as he gets out of prison where he’s been practicing coin tricks for the past three years.
When he finds out that he no longer has a wife, best friend, or job from that best friend to go back to thanks to a car crash, he joins with a conman who needs a sort of errand boy. Might as well, right? Nothing else to go back to.
That’s pretty much Shadow’s attitude throughout the first goodly chunk of the book, which is great because we get to go along for the ride as much as he does—up until he discovers all the disturbing dreams he’s been having and all the literally shifty people he’s been meeting and all the places he’s been going and all the TVs that have been talking to him are the preparations of war between old and new gods.
I love how Gaiman builds deities as idea that become incarnate and live where they hitched a ride into America with all the eleventy billion waves of settlers. The old ones (Easter—no, not that one, the pagan one—and Odin and Anansi and the like) are scratching out scruffy existences because no one believes in them anymore. The new ones (mostly technology) are terrified they’ll become obsolete as quickly as the gadgets that represent them. Basically, there’s no more room for both sanctions, so they’re going to war over America for its faith energy.
OR ARE THEY? (Spoiler alert. Repeat, spoiler alert down below. And it’s a pretty good one, so don’t look if you haven’t read and want to. FOR REALZ.)
It turns out that Loki and Odin are manipulating the two sides into fighting so they’ll all die and release all their energy that Loki and Odin will be able to feed on and get all of the stronger. And, after figuring out what’s going on and dying and wandering through the underworld and killing his dead wife so she’s finally at peace (in that order), Shadow has to stop it. And he does by pointing out what’s going on.
That is how Gaiman is going to draw me back into sci fic/fantasy exploration. He’s so excellent at fitting pieces together so their internal logic holds true even in paranormal situations like getting his heart weighted against a feather on the underworld scale.
It’s just such a cool blend of exploration, slowly dawning revelation, and anticipation that makes a super compelling read.