This is the first Neil Gaiman book I have ever read, and judging from it, I consider him an author of great imagination, despite lacking in cohesive narration and characterization. I had to be patient with American Gods, because the pacing left something to be desired; however, the novel serves to entertain.
American Gods tells the story of an ex-convict known only as Shadow who, upon his release from prison and the death of his wife, is hired to work for the mysterious Wednesday, an elderly man who is the Norse god Odin in disguise. Shadow is led into a labyrinthine world populated by ancient gods who walk among us in human form: Slavic gods Czernoborg and the Zorya; Germanic goddess Eostre; Egyptian gods Thoth, Anubis and the seductive Bast, to name a few. Gods thrive on the belief of human beings, and as faith in these gods diminish, their powers begin to wane, calling forth a battle for dominion in which Shadow discovers the fate meant for him since his birth.
These gods represent the ancient cultures that were lost to the Americanization of immigrants, and they have thus been abandoned and are seeking retribution. For example, it is easy to sympathize with Eostre, the earth goddess that was the origin of Easter, lost to commercialization of the holiday and peoples’ lack of knowledge of its pre-Christian roots. For how far human beings have advanced, their gods have been neglected and replaced as forms of technology are worshipped in their place.
The novel’s flaws lie partly in the lack of development of Shadow, who, true to his name, is merely a bystander for most of the time, only springing into action at the eleventh hour. This is a man who is never surprised, shocked, skeptical or has any reaction to the supernatural occurrences that follow him throughout his post-prison life. While Gaiman may have meant his character to be taciturn and mysterious, I found him to be simply bland and void.
Gaiman fans who trust him as a writer may have more patience than I did, waiting for the story to pick up. The plot tends to meander with no purpose in sight, at times when Gaiman loses his train of thought and just throws various pieces against the wall to see what sticks. In times like this, American Gods seems to be merely a showcase of gods of various origins. Gaiman does keep readers engaged with striking visuals and the mystery and suspense of Shadow’s predicament of whom he can trust and who is a god in disguise, though it all leads up to a rather implausible and anticlimactic end.
While American Gods is bogged down by its meandering narrative and lack of direction, it should appeal to fantasy and mythology lovers, as well as to any Neil Gaiman fan. Just don’t expect clear-cut answers when the book wraps up; readers seem to be expected to fill in the blanks themselves.