Neil Gaiman made his name as a writer of comicbooks, namely the legendary Sandman series. He then branched out into novels and wrote the highly successful 'Neverwhere' which was subsequently adapted for TV. He also wrote 'Good Omens' with Terry Pratchett - a book which I started reading some time last year and now can't for the life of me remember why I never finished it. Weird. So I suppose I could say that this is my first Neil Gaiman book.
I'm always suspicious of books that have more than one page of 'good reviews' in them. It's almost as if the publisher is desparate to convince the prospective reader that the book is actually worth reading, and that the prospective reader will only come to this conclusion if he or she has read the thorough endorsements from such exhalted tomes as The Denver Rocky Mountain News, Washington Post Book News, Seattle Times, USA Today, and The Independent (London) [sic]. Having said all this, American Gods is actually worth reading!
Imagine for a moment that throughout history people didn't believe in gods because they existed... but that they existed because people believed in them. Thor, Mama-Ji, Zeus, Ibis - gods from Africa, gods from South America, gods from all around the world. And not just gods as we know them but also piskies from Cornwall, leprecauns from Ireland, Vampyrs from central-eastern Europe. Now imagine that these gods didn't only exist in the places they originated from but were also brought to America - the New World - in the minds of settlers and traders from as far back as the Norsemen many years BC; the slaves from Africa; the Irish of the potato famines; Italians, Poles, Russians all seeking a new life. However, what happens to gods when people forget about them? What happens to a piskie when the Cornish stories and traditions are no longer passed on? What happens to great and powerful gods such as Odin? They all just carry on, and survive as best they can.
The backdrop for American Gods is a United States of America which has forgotten its old gods, trading then in for a chance to worship the newer gods with names such as Media, Automobiles, Internet, and Fast Food. Thrown into all this is a man called Shadow, who is released two days early from a 3 year stretch in prison due to the untimely death of his wife. It's on the journey back home that the grieving Shadow meets Mr Wednesday, a strange man who knows more about him than should rightfully be possible. This is where the journey begins, as a war between the old and the new gods seems increasingly inevitable...
American Gods is highly original, inventive, and extremely well written. It was one of those books that I didn't want to end, it was so good. I'll definitely be checking out 'Neverwhere', and I think one of my Brothers-In-Law has a few Sandman comics knocking around too...!