Book Review: American Gods, Neil Gaiman, Harper Collins, 2001

Shadow gets sprung from a stint in prison and falls down a rabbit hole into a Wonderland life that even he couldn’t make up if he tried.  Suddenly his wife is dead, but her ghost visits him sometimes.  Suddenly he’s under the guardian eye of Wednesday, who happens to have a bigger role in Shadow’s life than he’d care to admit.  Suddenly he’s thrown into an unfolding saga in which he plays an integral part.


The gods are at war you see.  Each and every foreign god brought over to America from various lands are gearing up for the battle to end all battles.  They are forgotten gods as Anansi (masquerading as a business man who goes by the clever name Mr. Nancy), puts it to Shadow “Our kind of people, we are exclusive. We’re not social.  Not even me.  Not even Bacchus.  Not for long. We walk by ourselves or we stay in our own little groups.  We do not play well with others.  We like to be adored and respected and worshiped – me, I like them to be tellin’ tales about me, tales showing my cleverness.  It’s a fault, I know, but it’s the way I am.  We like to be big.  Now in these shabby days, we are small.  The new gods rise and fall and rise again.  But this is not a country that tolerates gods for long.  Brahma creates, Vishnu preserves, Shiva destroys, and the ground is clear for Brahma to create ones more.”

In their forgotten state the gods find themselves in a bind: they must now slaughter one another in order to garner energy and sustain themselves.  It’s a messy gig and Shadow is central to its outcome.  Near the end of the story (the gig is rigged by the way – a nice little surprise that Gaiman springs on his reader) Shadow has fulfilled his role as hero amongst forgotten gods and he humbly surmises, “You know, I think I would rather be a man than a god.  We don’t need anyone to believe in us.  We just keep going anyhow.  It’s what we do.”

Gaiman is always great fun to read.  The humor he employs to poke fun at religion is greatly appreciated by this reader. It’s always slightly irrelevant in tone, yet always on point and with a slant that only Gaiman can provide.  The characters he creates are pensive and irritable and endearing.  He weaves a tale of full of ins and outs that keep a reader entertained since one never knows quite what side road the characters must take in order to achieve their destination – stories within the story.  Occasionally the work seemed a bit of a slog if dialogue seemed slow or of no import, but still highly recommendable as every Neil Gaiman book rightly should be.

Happy reading kids!


About Frankie Wallace

Frankie earned her BA in History from CSU Chico. Her writing includes current events as well as self published fiction and a children's book she is publishing. She lives in northern California with one husband, two dogs, and three boys. Frankie is an avid cooker, reader, hiker, and napper. View all posts by Frankie Wallace

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