I read Gaiman back in high school fifteen years ago, and I absolutely adored Neverwhere. To me, it was gold. So for the longest time, I couldn’t wait to get my hands on American Gods. Now, with its television debut, I was able to interrupt my reading queue for it just in case I wanted to watch it. And now I wonder if I’m just more cynical in my older age. When I read Neverwhere back in the day, I also thought that the Forgotten Realms were the best books in the world at that time, too. I’ll leave it at that.
So, needless to say, American Gods by Gaiman is loved by very many reading friends of mine. But I thought it was okay.
Alright, I thought it was dull. Two stars, that’s all.
As mentioned before, I make it a point to explain why I give a less-than-stellar rating for a book. My initial thought after finishing the book was glad I was that it was finally over. My very first reflection during chapter one was: This is going to be a long book. My second reflection about a hundred pages in was: I have to finish this just in case it redeems itself. Thank goodness I finished it in less than a week’s time.
Oh, did I mention yet that there will be spoilers in this review? Please stop here if you don’t want to know the rest of the story.
As I’d explained in a previous review I wrote halfway through the book, the only interesting characters were the Egyptian deities. But Shadow Moon, the MC? Okay, the moment I was introduced to him as Shadow, I said ‘uh-oh.’ And then he was introduced as big. Not that he really uses his size for anything, but, well, he’s a big guy. And flat as a petri dish. I couldn’t sympathize with him. Ever. His wife gets snuffed within the first few minutes and it only seems like a cheap plot ploy to get her where Gaiman wants her to be: back from the dead.
I don’t know, I can go on and on, but I really don’t want to at this point. I’m just glad it’s over. Between the shallow characterization (why do all these random goddesses want to sleep with him? What is his appeal??) and the acid trip visions and flashbacks (also, what was the purpose of Bilquis/Sheba besides another freaky sex scene to watch in half-horror and half-fascination??), I couldn’t get into the story. I felt nothing, absolutely nothing, for anybody. Except for Ibis and Anubis. Them, I could understand. But Bast (not Bastet) was the goddess of war, not some shape-shifting nymphomaniac.
But my biggest gripe? Okay, so 90% of the book is spent prophesying and dreading and foreshadowing a giant storm. It will be the cataclysmic decider between the old gods and the new gods. It’s mentioned from chapter one all the way to the last chapter (very deceiving, this 30+ page epilogue) and it’s going to be epic. I mean heck, the whole plot is leading up to it.
No war, no fighting, no nothing.
I can’t even begin to describe the expression utter betrayal I felt, how I sat there and had to reread that page about three times to understand what just happened. Odin’s son says “no war, just a false flag, sorry guys,” and that’s that. Done. Hands are washed, everyone leaves to slink back to their respective lairs.
You can’t build up an entire book upon a particular climax, then take that climax away in the matter of a few “oi, yous all been duped” phrases. This is the second book this year that gypped me as far as the climax was concerned, and I’m getting pretty annoyed by it. The first book’s lack of a satisfying climax (or total lack thereof) had the excuse of a “to be continued in book two” at the end, but I think that’s pretty cheap.
Getting back to American Gods, how exactly did Odin get Shadow’s mom pregnant, but not the millions of other 16-18 year olds he was getting busy with? And where’s the story about Shadow’s mother? Was it a Lucky Strike, like the brand he likes to smoke? Convenient how Shadow never thinks of his father until Odin gives him that “ever wondered who your dad was?” speech.
Ultimately, Shadow ends up wandering around the world avoiding the random gods he’ll probably run into along the way. Something of a trail of destruction left behind him, but no less for wear or tear. Nothing happened, and he’s the only one mentally affected by the dramatic and inane games of the gods.
I was truly expecting more from this story, and I’m sorry to all the fans out there, but I just couldn’t get into it. Unless I’m missing something here? Brom’s stories were more exciting than this book, as corny as some of them may be. I like Gaiman for his older and more whimsical other-wordly stories. But hey, good for Gaiman and his success with it. I’m going to just forget about this one and keep his other stories as pleasant high school nostalgia.