Warning: this is less of a review of this particular book and more of a comparison between different things and this book. Also not entirely positive.
American Gods was a wild ride that started with a letdown, then some rising appreciation, and ended with me thinking “…that’s it?”
To give credit where it’s due, the issue with this book is not, entirely, in the book itself – it’s in the reputation that precedes Neil Gaiman. Reading so many reviews and awed friends over the years, I had come to believe that he was something of a Terry Pratchett writing like Stephen King. Neil Gaiman is really not that much of an extraordinary author as such – I will not deny the man has imagination and a skill for storytelling, but I simply didn’t see any of the genius everyone else seems to be enchanted by.
If we talk about books that examine the so-called Power of Belief, and how things like Gods and myth exist in the minds of people and die if they are forgotten over the years then I would have to say that Terry Pratchett’s Hogfather did a much better job of it. One might argue that American Gods has a more cynical outlook on things, and I would like to ask you this: why is that better? Why is that necessary? However, this is a matter of taste, and I have expressed in the past that I dislike when magic is taken out of things. But, I still feel like Sir Pratchett’s Hogfather did a much better job at pulling things in the open (many of his books do), presenting social themes and serious matters while still managing to keep the wonder and lightness present. You don’t despair or feel a hollow sense of “Why?” upon finishing one of his books.
Looking at American Gods in itself, ignoring the initial disappointment (that only came because of Gaiman’s reputation), it was actually enjoyable and easy to get lost in. I read it in three days’ time! The story is actually relatively original (as much as it’s possible to do so with the theme of mythical gods in the modern world), although I did feel a lot of the metaphors and symbolism were lost on me, not to mention many truly vague moments that felt as if they were made vague for the sole reason of adding ~Mystery~ to the narrative without any plot purpose. The dialogue and pacing are very solid and you don’t feel very confused as to character motivations, which is always very good.
I had a problem with some of the ways that events were told. I suppose that many of the snippets of history were there to simply give us an idea of how the Gods were brought to the New World (and I have to say, the historical descriptions were actually quite a slap in the face with reality – in a good and bitter way), but in many cases I would finish one of those passages and then think “Okay but how does that tie in to the rest of the plot?”. Like many other things, they seemed to be there only for the sake of being there, without much further purpose. And as long as we are mentioning things that simply exist without real plot purpose, what was with all the sex? I understand reproduction and intercourse is a very large part of the world’s myths as a whole, but were all those instances of it really necessary? They didn’t seem to convey anything to me, even when I was supposed to think it was emotional intimacy that was being involved. If we talk about sex being used to move a plot along, The Glass Books of the Dream Eaters did a much better job of applying it as such (one day I will review that book, as I love it dearly!).
Another thing I found quite appalling was the treatment of female characters. You’d think that since Gaiman has been praised so through and through, he would have done a better job of it. All female characters that had any story seemed to only exist for Shadow, for helping him move forward in some way, or saving him. If we talk about female character handling, I’d say the current ongoing TV series has done a much much better job – especially at giving Laura so much more depth than she had in the actual book. Once I read that if you can replace a female character with a hanger and see no difference, then it didn’t speak well for the book, and that’s how they all felt like in American Gods.
Frankly, I think the TV series as a whole is doing a much better job than the book did – even the way the events are re-arranged makes more sense.
Conclusion: too hyped for what it ultimately was. Might not read a Gaiman book again, honestly.
Would I recommend: I would, actually, but don’t expect what other people make it out to be. Just look at it as a normal book. However, if you consider the praise Gaiman gets, you’re better off reading Stephen King for horror and Terry Pratchett for humor.