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realjimbob

REALJimBob

Fortysomething, photographer slacker, working in IT, living in Greenwich; failed polymath; drinks and eats too much, reads too little...

American Gods - Neil Gaiman I'm not at all sure why I haven't read any Gaiman before. Actually, I had read [b:Good Omens|12067|Good Omens|Terry Pratchett|http://d.gr-assets.com/books/1327875267s/12067.jpg|4110990] by [a:Neil Gaiman|1221698|Neil Gaiman|http://d.gr-assets.com/authors/1234150163p2/1221698.jpg] and [a:Terry Pratchet], but I found that a little too Pratchet for my taste and maybe I'd subconsciously discounted Gaiman from that point on. If [b:American Gods|5882515|American Gods|Neil Gaiman|http://d.gr-assets.com/books/1296251713s/5882515.jpg|1970226] is anything to go by though, I made a terrible mistake. As with Gaiman himself, this form of urban fantasy is also pretty new to me – but I'm liking what I've read so far.

Here, Gaiman presents a world where the gods of the long past – not the gods of the Christians or the Jews, but the gods of older cultures – have been brought to America by their followers, long ago, and since forgotten. Without their adherents, the gods have fallen on harder times and struggle to find a relevancy in modern America. It's not clear how they came to America, if they were brought there by their followers, or created anew in America by the belief in them. What does become clear is that these are both the old gods and also not. Somehow, they are copies of the original gods – both the same as the original; but also sadder, greyer and a little lost. As America changed their followers and made them forget the old gods, so America also seems to have changed the gods themselves. Rather than just fading away though, they are building up for a war against the modern gods – the gods of media, of television, or the Internet etc. We are presented with an obvious old-gods = good vs. new-gods = bad story; but of course, things are never that clear-cut.

The story is narrated to us by Shadow. An oddly named character, who is released from prison to find that his wife has died, that the waiting job is no more, and that a strange Mr. Wednesday wants to offer him a job. There is clearly something more-than-human about Shadow as the coincidences of his involvement would be unbelievable otherwise, yet his lack of understanding mirrors our own and makes him the perfect narrator. Like us he has no idea who these gods are – either the old or the new. He has no idea why Mr. Wednesday has plucked him out for this role, he's not even really sure he believes who all these people claim to be. He's as invested in the story as we are – he wants to know what's coming, he wants to know why, but like us he's outside of the narrative, totally unaware of the developing story until it happens to him. As he learns what's going on, so do we. As he makes up his mind what's true and what isn't, so do we.

Gaiman presents a fascinating, and totally readable, tale. The subject-matter is fantastic, but it's told in a way that makes it believable. While the characterisation feels a little distant at times, I think that was deliberate – everybody is using everybody else, there are very few genuine friendships or relationships in this novel – nobody is 100% sure who to trust. Roll on [b:Anansi Boys|12708687|Anansi Boys|Neil Gaiman|http://d.gr-assets.com/books/1328317822s/12708687.jpg|1007964].