… a noirish sci-fi road trip novel in which the melting pot of the United States extends not merely to mortals but to a motley assortment of disgruntled gods and deities … This might all sound like a bit much. But Gaiman has a deft hand with the mythologies he tinkers with here; even better, he's a fine, droll storyteller.
With its mythological echoes, puns, in jokes and other decodable references, American Gods will delight the sort of reader who likes to hunt for such things … American Gods is a crackerjack suspense yarn with an ending that both surprises and makes perfect sense, as well as many passages of heady, imagistic writing. And for all that he’s missed in the American propensity for religious fanaticism, Gaiman has exactly nailed the way we talk; some of the most savory characters are the minor ones.
Mystery, satire, sex, horror, poetic prose – American Gods uses all these to keep the reader turning the pages … As this apocalyptic novel progresses, Gaiman balances several different narratives…To keep the story from growing too grandiose, Gaiman throws in a fair amount of humor … On the whole the story accelerates crisply toward its surprise ending.
Gaiman returns to the fertile killing ground that nourished The Sandman: that peculiarly American crossroads where pop culture intersects with religion, violence, and death … The new gods in Gaiman’s pantheon are folks like the ur-anchorwoman Media, the ultra-geek Technical Boy, a few tired Men in Black. They aren’t original or scary enough to generate much tension … The novel’s pacing is leisurely, its narrative propulsion interrupted by a series of set pieces that, diverting as they are, sabotage the story’s bid for page-turner status … With American Gods, Neil Gaiman doesn’t join the literary pantheon of his heroes but he does burnish his credentials as a culture hero.
The story skillfully glides onto and off the plane of reality, as a series of mysterious encounters suggest to Shadow that he may not be in Indiana anymore—or indeed anywhere on Earth he recognizes … A magical mystery tour through the mythologies of all cultures, a unique and moving love story—and another winner for the phenomenally gifted, consummately reader-friendly Gaiman.
One of the things Gaiman does in American Gods – and it is a book which does many things and does them well – is fantasticate the Midwest … America, in other words, is not just a melting pot of races: it is a melting pot of gods. While working for Odin, Shadow meets, among others, a leprechaun named Mad Sweeney, an Eastern European god called Czernobog and Egyptian deities like Bast and Horus. But the power of these old gods is waning … Gaiman includes a number of short tangential tales within the framework of his main narrative. And, as in The Sandman, these tales are not mere filler: they support and elaborate the themes of the novel and are exemplary models of concise storytelling.
American Gods is assured and ambitious, resembling nothing except Gaiman's Sandman stories. Shadow's solid, believable grounding in the minute trivia of the real world rivals the book's grounding in the fantastic and arcane world of ancient theologies; those two aspects meet and merge to form a cohesive, compelling whole that approaches Gaiman's finest work. Like most road-trip novels, American Gods can be disjointed and episodic, but, like the best of them, it's still worth the trip.
Gaiman tries to keep the magical and the mundane evenly balanced, but he is clearly more interested in the activities of his human protagonists: Shadow's poignant personal moments and the tale's affectionate slices of smalltown life are much better developed than the aimless plot, which bounces Shadow from one episodic encounter to another in a design only the gods seem to know. Mere mortal readers will enjoy the tale's wit, but puzzle over its strained mythopoeia.
Gaiman’s plot is but a series of episodic tangents — a part-time job in a mortuary run by Egyptian death gods; a sinister idyll in a snowbound town; a hallucinatory trip into the underworld and back — not unlike the wanderings of his Sandman story lines. In fact, American Gods could have easily been a graphic novel, and an illustrator’s rendered characterizations might have added some much needed nuance to Gaiman’s new gods … American Gods works because of Gaiman’s singular control over the proceedings, his nimble and intelligent voice, and his gift for painting spectacle and splashing big themes across his canvas. He really only stumbles at the end.