My introduction to Neil Gaiman came in the form of Good Omens which he co-authored with Terry Pratchett. I enjoyed it but it wasn’t until years later that I picked up his Ocean at the End of the Lane and loved it. I was too intimidated to ever get started on Sandman but eventually, I got around to picking up a copy of American Gods for my Kindle, planning to read it before the TV series was released.
Within just a few pages of American Gods, I knew I was in for a treat. I also suspected that it would make a brilliant TV series. It’s just the perfect books for it. Everything from the characters to settings, even the language characters use in casual conversation is easy to imagine on the screen. In some books that can be annoying, it can feel like the book was written for a TV or movie adaptation and the descriptions feel clunky (see Dan Brown). That’s not the case here and perhaps it’s just the power of suggestion that makes me think of TV at all.
Anyway, the story follows Shadow, a convict and then, very shortly after, an ex-convict. Once he gets out of jail he finds that his world isn’t quite how he left it and when he’s approached by the mysterious Wednesday he eventually, reluctantly, agrees to work for him. It’s not long before the reader starts picking up signs that Wednesday is, in fact, the Norse god, Odin. Indeed, the book is liberally sprinkled with gods from all kinds of mythologies and I couldn’t help wondering if I might have recognised even more characters if I knew more about myths, legends and folk tales.
In between Shadow and Wednesday’s over-aching adventure we’re occasionally introduced to other characters. These tend to exist for just one chapter, sometimes being mentioned in passing at a later stage, but their main role is simply to flesh out the details of this world that Gaiman is creating. Thus we learn about the people who brought the gods and other beings to America from their respective homelands and what became both of those people, and of those gods. I found these little side stories fascinating and, as long as the book was, I would happily have read even more of them.
Another recurring theme is Shadow’s dreams. Sometimes when he falls asleep his dreams get weird and mystical. The line between reality and dreams is blurred and Shadow isn’t always sure when he wakes up that what he experienced wasn’t real. This is further compounded when other characters seem to know something about what he’s been dreaming about.
It’s a wonderfully deep story without being dense. There’s a lot to read and a lot to read into but I never felt like it was just plodding along. There are times when it’s funny and times when it’s out and out chilling and it’s just about convinced me that maybe, one day when I feel like I have a lot of time, I should probably think about reading Sandman. In the meantime, I think I’ll just go find that TV series.