I waited a long time to pick this novel up. As a long-time Gaiman fan and a (mostly) fan of Hugo winners, I honestly can’t say why. When I did pick it up, it delivered exactly what I expected from a good Gaiman book. But it was also so much more. No wonder, he was showered with rave reviews about this particular novel. No wonder, everyone wanted to give him awards. It is a truly great novel with such a dense atmosphere that I felt as if I were crawling into another world whenever I opened its pages…
Published: Headline Review, 2005 (2001)
My rating: 8/10
Goodreads rating: 4,09/5
First sentence: Shadow had done three years in prison.
Days before his release from prison, Shadow’s wife Laura dies in a mysterious car crash, in apparently adulterous circumstances. Dazed, Shadow travels home, only to encounter the bizarre Mr. Wednesday claiming to be a refugee from a distant war, a former god and the king of America. Together they embark on a profoundly strange journey across the heart of the USA, whilst all around them a storm of preternatural and epic proportions threatens to break.
Rougly put, this book is a road trip through a world inhabited by gods, carried to America by immigrants, many years ago. In detail, Neil Gaiman offers his readers much more and as any fans of his writing will know, he delivers his own particular brand of weird. Our very Gaimanianly named protagonist Shadow agrees to accept the job that strange Mr. Wednesday offers him. He realizes very soon that his old man is more than meets the eye. Together, the travel through America (the US, that is), meet all sorts of strange creatures and, yes, gods, solve mysteries along the way and, by the way, save the world.
For readers who are comfortable with a bit of mythology, and not only Greek, mind you, this book is a cavalcade of fun. There are hints and remarks and references to all sorts of gods, demi-gods, godlings and allegorical deity-like creatures. I’m sure I missed a ton of references but the ones I got made this a lot of fun to read, just on that first level. We get Greek, Norse, Indian gods, African legends, Irish deities and everything else that could have come to America with the people believing in these gods. It is fascinating enough that mixing all these worlds, these complex systems of belief, works so well and it just shows one more time Neil Gaiman’s talent as a writer.
You see, I was already taken with the book. And I haven’t even talked about the plot or characters yet. It took a long time for the story to become somewhat more linear and to form a clear path. We are thrown into a story that meets us with confusion and doesn’t make a lot of sense. Discovering some of that sense through the plot, was another fun andventure. While certain bits felt episodic, I was never bored. Something always happens and usually, that something is profoundly weird. There are flashbacks (these “Coming to America” bits were a highlight in and of themselves), side plots, recurring characters and even some humor.
I enjoyed this read immensely. I wouldn’t have wanted to read it in one sitting because taking breaks, letting it all sink in, and mulling it over a little, turned this book into my own private little TV-series-inside-my-head. Over time, I grew to like the characters a lot, especially Shadow, despite his not saying very much. Gaiman has written a fantastic book, filled to the brim with mythology, amazing characters and surprisingly good descriptions of gods and landscapes. He breathed life into this fictional America and took his readers on this roadtrip from his brilliant mind.
An appropriately climactic and well-rounded ending with some revelations waiting for me, turned this from a very good into an excellent book. And even the acknowledgmenet section made me giggle a couple of times.
THE GOOD: The coolest kind of mythology, a convoluted but killer plot and characters that feel intensely alive – even the dead ones.
THE BAD: The confusing start may put readers off, as might Gaiman’s brand of weird (if you’re new to him).
THE VERDICT: Another masterwork by Neil Gaiman that deserves its Hugo and its Nebula awards and that I can’t wait to re-read before the HBO series gets made.
RATING: 8/10 Excellent
Read an excerpt on Neil Gaiman’s homepage.
The book is being adapted into a 6-season HBO TV series by the author himself. Having been a huge HBO fan for years and years (remember Rome? *sigh*), I trust them and Neil Gaiman fully with the job of turning this awesome book into an awesome TV show. As there have been no announcements concerning a cast or actual shooting of the first season, I guess we’ll have to be patient for a few more years.
So tell me: How excited are you about the series?