American Gods by Neil Gaiman

Posted October 7, 2021 by Amber in Reviews / 0 Comments

American Gods

American Gods

by Neil Gaiman

Series: American Gods #1
Publisher: HarperTorch on June 19, 2001
Genre: Fantasy
Target Age Group: Adult
Representation: BIPOC, Black, Native
Content Warnings: Alcoholism, Blood, Car Accident, Child Death, Cursing, Death, Grief, Gun Violence, Infidelity, Kidnapping, Medical Content, Murder, Racial Slurs, Sexual Content, Suicide, Violence

Rating: ★★½

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Shadow is a man with a past. But now he wants nothing more than to live a quiet life with his wife and stay out of trouble. Until he learns that she's been killed in a terrible accident.

Flying home for the funeral, as a violent storm rocks the plane, a strange man in the seat next to him introduces himself. The man calls himself Mr. Wednesday, and he knows more about Shadow than is possible.

He warns Shadow that a far bigger storm is coming. And from that moment on, nothing will ever be the same…

Back in 2006, American Gods was my first Neil Gaiman book. A friend at the time insisted it was the most incredible thing, so much so that she bought me a copy and I read it. When she asked what I thought, like any good friend, I lied and told her I loved it. I hadn’t read it since, until now.

I still don’t particularly enjoy American Gods. The book is far too long and meandering for my taste. A great deal of me appreciates the way Gaiman writes, because his language is something of poetry in itself, not too flowery but it nonetheless evokes powerful imagery. I do genuinely like that, and his writing style is probably the only thing that kept me reading this book.

Conceptually, American Gods should be particularly interesting. It’s the story of scattered gods from multiple worldwide pantheon that have been erected in the United States as people came to settle the country from all over the world. What vexes me about that aspect of the story is how very little time and love has been given to the various tribal gods and beliefs that were already established in the United States before it was the United States. For the most part, we focused on the Norse and Egyptian pantheons, with no reference to Roman or Greek gods, and a little of Eastern European. So well the book is interesting in that it resurrects a lot of world mythology, it still is very limited in what it shares. On top of that we have the development of modern American gods, which are physical manifestations of things like the Internet and media, which I feel is a bit less exciting than the other mythologies of the world. Rather than worshipping TV, I feel as though the seven deadly sins could’ve been personified into gods, sloth instead of TV, while greed is certainly an American God of its own in modernity. If you don’t think too much about it, it seems brilliant, but as soon as you start dissecting the story it’s far less impressive.

For a 600 page book, I would come to expect a decent plot. Unfortunately, American Gods has less of a plot and more of a journey. The chapters are extremely long, and they are broken up with asides about various gods and how they arrived in America, none of which actually pushes Shadow’s story forward. There is this big twist at the end which even though it is supposed to be twisty, just feels like a final nod to the fact like “oh look there is a plot, I was just kidding about the taking forever and going nowhere thing”. By the time I reach the last fifty pages in the whole situation was revealed, I had far past ceased to care.

Some of the characters are more interesting than others, but I feel like most of the gods got caricatured. In particular, almost all of the women were highly sexualised. The only exception to this rule is the story are the Zorya’s. The language in the book is also necessarily crude, again, particularly coming from the female characters. I’m not quite sure why Gaiman decided to portray them all in this way, but it was a bit unsettling for me. Not that I couldn’t handle it, more like I didn’t understand why it was deemed necessary to personify all of the women in such a way that they use the most foul language and care mostly about sex and feel the need to sexualise everything. I didn’t much love the characterisation of Whiskey Jack, the native American folk hero or so he calls himself who will give up everything in the world that man has made but please leave the Budweiser. Again, this plays on another caricature.

As I said, I do like the way Gaiman writes, and that’s one of the reasons I keep picking up his books. My track record with his novels has been very hit or miss, and if I’m being honest, it’s more miss than hit. His lyrical control of the English language is impressive and intriguing, but I don’t think it did enough to forgive the many flaws I felt in American Gods. I understand that this is a favourite of many of his fans, and that the Starz adaptation of the show has done extremely well. It’s just not for me.

I want you to know that for the right reader, American Gods is an easy recommendation. The characters are interesting as a whole, and it’s just gritty enough with such a small sprinkling of fantasy that it won’t turn off many readers who find things like science fiction and fantasy and relatable and uninteresting. I really wish that more attention had been paid to some of the stereotypes and portrayals of particular gods and their people, and I like to think that maybe today if this book had been published there would have been a sensitivity reader. I understand why a lot of people like this book and it’s entirely possible that you, dear reader, would enjoy it as well. American Gods is not my cup of tea, and that’s that.


Rating: 3.5 out of 5.


Rating: 3 out of 5.


Rating: 1.5 out of 5.


Rating: 2 out of 5.


Rating: 4 out of 5.

Personal Enjoyment

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.
Code Orange Problematic Author History

Neil Gaiman has a Problematic History

The author of this book has said problematic things in the past or has been insensitive to marginalized voices. Please take a moment to click on the poisoned apple and learn more so you are fully educated on his history before choosing to pick up this book.

American Gods Will Be Donated

When I say “donated” here, what I really mean is “left on the Norwegian Encore hoping a crew member or passenger will pick it up and enjoy it”. I have carried American Gods around with me for such a long time because it was given to me as a gift in high school by a Gaiman fan who insisted my life would not be complete until I read it. I didn’t like it when I read it the first time, but felt bad and didn’t want to unhaul the book. More than a decade later, I still don’t like it, but I’m no longer quite so sentimental about these things. I hope someone finds it who loves it.

send me your thoughts

What do you think of when you think about American “gods”?

While I see Gaiman’s point about how we worship technology, I think of Native gods first. What about you?

Share with me in the comments!

stay magical amber

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