Imagine a world where all the gods of mythology are real. It doesn’t matter what mythological system, either—figures from Norse legends like Odin and Loki to African folk-gods like Anansi still roam.
Now imagine that they’re tied to their worshipers. The more devoted worshipers a god has, the stronger that god is. When the last worshiper dies, that deity is extinguished. This is the world that Neil Gaiman explores in his two novels, American Gods and the spin-off Anansi Boys.
Before I get into the novels, I should offer a brief note about the edition I’m reading from. In 2011, Barnes and Noble reprinted a number of important works with exquisite binding. This particular edition is leather-bound with an embossed cover. It even features a ribbon bookmark. After I finished reading the book, I found the spine as straight as the day I brought it home from the bookstore. If you’re interested in reading Gaiman, track down this edition.
Okay, enough gushing over the binding. On to the novels …
Shadow is a tough prisoner who has spent his jail-time avoiding attention and practicing coin-tricks. As you might expect in a book called American Gods, his life gets caught up with all sorts of deities beginning with Mr. Wednesday. (Read this book if you can’t figured out who he is!)
In Gaiman’s world, when a person immigrates to America, they bring their deities with them. The US is littered with old-world gods from every tradition who fight for position with new upstart American gods like Technical Boy and Media.
The idea behind this story is brilliant—lifted and tweaked (admittedly) from Harlan Ellison’s Deathbird Stories. It provides a fertile landscape for the sort of fantastic mystery story-telling Gaiman excels at. There’s no question why this book is still being reprinted.
Mr. Nancy, one of the deities from American Gods, is the protagonist of this spin-off novel. Or, to be precise, his “boys” are. Anansi is a West African Trickster god who frequently takes the form of a spider. He has a number of stories associated with his name.
Anansi crossed the ocean in the devotion of slaves on trade ships to Haiti. From there it was a quick jump to America where he found himself a home in Florida.
Since these two novels are published under one cover, it only seems fitting to compare them. Anansi Boys is shorter and nowhere near as epic in scope as American Gods. Don’t misread that as criticism, though. Anansi Boys is a different type of novel with a stronger sense of humor.
There’s a rumour going around that Gaiman is writing a full-fledged sequel to American Gods. I’ll be the first in line.