Tag Archive for: fantasy fiction

The Last Tale of the Flower Bride by Roshani Chokshi

What begins as a whirlwind romance quickly turns into a gothic fairytale in Roshani Chokshi’s haunting The Last Tale of the Flower Bride. Typically an author of middle grade and young adult books, The Last Tale of the Flower Bride is Chokshi’s first adult book, a split narrative centered around three characters and their love for fairytales.

When a scholar of myth and fairytale receives an invitation to view a one-of-a-kind manuscript from a private family collection, he jumps at the opportunity. He meets with Indigo Maxwell-Castenada, the manuscript owner, but the manuscript’s rarity is eclipsed by Indigo herself. A beautiful and mysterious heiress also captivated by fairytales, Indigo is unlike anyone the man has ever met; they fall in love and plan to marry. Before they marry, however, Indigo makes the man promise to never ask about her past. The man, simply known as the bridegroom, accepts Indigo’s strange request.

Not long after they are married Indigo learns her aunt is dying and is thus called upon to return to her childhood home, the House of Dreams, to tend the estate. The bridegroom has never seen a manor like the House of Dreams with its eerie décor, peculiar rooms, and fading grandeur. There is also a lingering shadow of another person in the home: Indigo’s close and only childhood friend, Azure, who suddenly disappeared years prior. As the bridegroom explores the manor and finds traces of the adventures the two girls had he begins to have questions about Indigo’s past that have him unsure if he will be able to heed her request.

It is at this point in the novel the reader begins to learn more about Azure, the second narrator, who is narrating from her and Indigo’s adolescent years. Azure lives down the road from the House of Dreams with her mom and her mom’s unsettling boyfriend. She often walks by the House of Dreams, marveling at the home, the possibilities and the secrets it seems to offer. On one such walk Azure meets Indigo, who invites her inside the gates. They immediately bond over their dreams of a fairyland where they can run away and never look back (much like Indigo and the bridegroom’s first encounter). Years pass and Azure and Indigo grow up together, becoming closer and closer, spending all their time together, creating for themselves a cocoon of fairytales and friendship.

But Indigo is not the nicest person, often mean-spirited, even to Azure and the bridegroom. The split narrative reveals the parallels between Azure and the bridegroom: both of their worlds center completely around Indigo and the easy freedom of her lifestyle. Indigo is privileged, insistent upon her fairytale future and soon-to-be magical abilities, and takes charge of every situation. While it is often easy to dislike Indigo, Chokshi creates her in a way that is also complex, with an air of mystery and intrigue surrounding her. The three characters become more and more interlaced with one another due to their love of magic and fantasy, but also due to their love for Indigo. The bridegroom has to know: what happened to Azure?

At its heart The Last Tale of the Flower Bride is character driven, as much a gothic fairytale as it is a coming-of-age story focused on human nature, connections, and the darkness that comes with secrets. There is mystery, a touch of horror, some romance, and an ever present feeling of a haunting atmosphere. The novel’s characters are dedicated to fairytales while being part of one themselves. It is not always easy to guess what will happen next and I found myself both intrigued and repulsed by Indigo, just as some of the novel’s characters are. Chokshi’s writing had me easily invested in the gothic themes and characters. Both grim and entrancing, The Last Tale of the Flower Bride is perfect for readers that enjoy dark fairytales.

Note: If you are interested in reading The Last Tale of the Flower Bride you might consider looking at the content warnings before picking up the novel.

Review written by Sarah Turner-Hill, Adult Programming Coordinator

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Babel: An Arcane History by R. F. Kuang

In the large port city of Canton, a young boy is dying of cholera. His mother succumbed to the same disease days before, and he is almost glad that he will soon be joining her. As he lays in bed thinking about his short life, a stranger enters his house. The man holds out a bar of silver, speaks two words – one in French and one in English – and the boy begins to heal.

This is the opening scene of R. F. Kuang’s BABEL: AN ARCANE HISTORY. Set in the 1800s, BABEL presents a world at the height of the British Empire where magic is a tradable good. By using the language gaps in translated words, scholars are able to produce magical effects with engraved silver bars.

The boy is whisked back to England where he becomes the ward of this man, Professor Lovell. He is asked to choose a name that will help him assimilate into British society. He chooses Robin Swift, in honor of his favorite author, Jonathan Swift.

For the next few years, Robin is taught Latin and ancient Greek. He also learns that Professor Lovell has always been an influence in his life. Robin – whose family was extremely poor – grew up with an inexplicable British governess who taught him English. A governess hired by the professor.

Professor Lovell keeps Robin at arm’s length. His goal is to prepare Robin for the rigorous language training he will receive at Babel, the college in Oxford dedicated to producing magical silver.

Babel is the world’s center for translation and, by extension, magic. Students who graduate will most likely remain at Babel to continue translations or to maintain the networks of silver around the world.

The more unique the languages a person can translate are, the more important they are to Babel’s organization. Robin has the potential to be very valuable, because there are currently only two Asian-language translators at Babel – one of whom is Professor Lovell.

Robin and his fellow students are initially enchanted by the college. The four of them have all experienced hardship, but they find solidarity and companionship in each other.

However, as their studies progress, they learn more about the unfair system they are supporting. Their group is torn apart by their responses to Babel’s insular, England-first philosophy.

Similar to our world’s industrial revolution, this world is in the midst of a magical revolution. Laborers are forced out of their jobs as magic allows machines to work more efficiently. Countries are being left behind as the richer nations purchase their silver. And gifted linguists are taken away from their homelands to support Babel’s growing demand.

But an organization is working against Babel, stealing their silver and converting linguists to the cause. They are attempting to expose what is at stake if the college is allowed to remain the hub of all of the world’s magic.

Throughout the book, Robin is drawn deeper into this underground revolution. He becomes convinced that something drastic must be done to shake Babel’s foundation.

BABEL is a dense book, full of footnotes both real and fictional. The pace is rapid, keeping readers engaged through linguistics classes, arguments with Professor Lovell, and clandestine meetings with agents of the resistance.

At over 500 pages, the book is a commitment, but it is never dry. R. F. Kuang’s world building skills are excellent, and her magic system is incredibly unique. I will be thinking about BABEL for a long time to come.

 

Review by Alyssa Berry, Technical Services Librarian

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The Adventures of Amina Al-Sirafi by Shannon Chakraborty

Amina al-Sirafi used to be a pirate. She sailed the Indian Ocean on her ship, the Marawati, with a dedicated and close-knit crew. She was a fearsome warrior and an ingenious captain. But now, she’s retired.

For ten years she has been living in a dilapidated house by the ocean with her mother and young daughter. Amina stays isolated to avoid being recognized as the famed sea captain. She loves being a mother, and she loves the quiet life she has been able to provide for her family.

Her retirement is interrupted by the arrival of a noblewoman, Salima al-Hilli. The older woman reveals that her son used to be a member of Amina’s crew – before his death – and offers Amina a fortune to track down her granddaughter.

Dunya al-Hilli was kidnapped by a band of mercenaries led by Falco Palamenestra, a Fankish captain with unusual powers. As Amina looks into the teenager’s disappearance, it becomes clear that there is more to the story than Salima is willing to tell her.

Before she sets out to track down Dunya and Falco, Amina has to gather her crew back together, track down the Marawati — which she has left in the care of her former first mate, and find out where Falco is heading.

As the crew investigates, they discover what Falco is searching for: the Moon of Saba, a legendary artifact that is said to contain a supernatural being. Amina also discovers that Dunya was far from a kidnapping victim. She is a self-taught supernatural scholar who willingly went with Falco to find the Moon.

Amina has a history with the supernatural. She knows that Falco and Dunya are already in over their heads. And though she is only interested in stopping Falco, a misguided teenager with an adventurous streak deserves to be saved.

Shannon Chakraborty’s THE ADVENTURES OF AMINA AL-SIRAFI is a high-seas heist full of memorable characters. None more extraordinary than Amina herself.

Amina is a strong, resourceful woman dedicated to getting back home to her family. But the more time she spends at sea, the harder it is to think about giving it up again. Her struggle between her love of the ocean and her love for her daughter plays out internally as she rides the waves, fights sea monsters, and argues with her estranged demonic husband.

The book is written as if Amina is dictating it like an old fish story. Her wry personality comes through every anecdote. This first-person narration allows Amina to keep some important details to herself as the journey progresses. Some readers may feel like they missed a previous book from the number of allusions she makes to the last adventure of the Marawati – the one that led to the death of Dunya’s father and Amina’s retirement.

The in-fiction writer is a scribe dedicated to recording the crew’s adventures, because – despite her protests – Amina is becoming a legend.

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Review by Alyssa Berry, Technical Services Librarian

Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo

For as long as she can remember, Alex Stern has been able to see ghosts. For most of her life it has been an inconvenience at best, but now it has gotten her a fresh start in life and a free ride to one of the most prestigious colleges in the world.

Last summer Alex woke up in a hospital bed after surviving a horrific attack at her home. There she is visited by Dean Elliot Sandow; he knows about her ability to see ghosts and he wants to offer her a position in one of the nine houses, secret societies on Yale’s campus.

Eight of the houses are essentially fraternities, run by the children of the rich and powerful – who were themselves members of these houses. Within these groups, members perform magical rituals: some predict the future, others change themselves into animals. In one Alex witnesses a famous musician undergoing a ritual to sing more beautifully.

The ninth house, Lethe, serves as a watchdog for these other houses. Lethe makes sure their rituals do not get out of hand and that the societies do not reveal themselves to the general public. Alex’s abilities will make her a valuable asset in this group.

All of the members have their own part to play within Lethe. Alex is an apprentice member, working under the direction of Darlington – Daniel Arlington – an upperclassman known and respected around campus. Darlington went missing earlier in the year when Alex saw him pulled into a portal to hell. Alex is driven to bring him back, despite everyone telling her that he is dead.

Lethe also has an Oculus, someone dedicated to recording and gathering information, and the Centurion, a member of the local police who can alert them if a crime scene seems magical or cover up something that the houses will deal with on their own.

Initially, Alex feels isolated in this group. Darlington is jealous of her innate ability to see ghosts. Pamela Dawes, the Oculus, seems offended by Alex’s presence. And the Centurion, Detective Turner, suspects that Alex may have been involved in the grisly murder she escaped in California.

Alex herself is difficult to get along with. She actively opposes the polite facade that has kept the balance between the houses and she is disgusted by the rich kids who play with magic without understanding the dangers. Back in California she was a high school dropout with an abusive drug dealer boyfriend. She knows this is an entirely different world, but she refuses to bow to its conventions.

Midway through her first semester, Alex is sent to the scene of a possible homicide. A young woman from New Haven has been found murdered. Detective Turner is eager to turn Alex away, the woman and her boyfriend are known criminals and he is already in custody, but Alex cannot shake the feeling that something is off.

As she follows up on her suspicions, Alex uncovers a string of similar murders going back decades. And if these are some kind of secret ritual gone wrong, Alex is going to get to put a stop to it.

Bardugo is an expert at crafting a satisfying antihero, Alex is a protagonist that the reader cannot entirely trust. She is complicated, secretive, and more likely to punch someone in the gut than walk away. Alex has had a hard life, but she will do anything to protect her friends – whatever the cost.

Leigh Bardugo’s NINTH HOUSE is a bit of a puzzle box. The novel jumps around through time; flashing back to scenes from Alex’s training with Darlington and keeping certain details hidden from the reader until just the right moment. There are layers of mysteries that build over the course of the story. Most of those mysteries are concluded by the end of the book; others are resolved in Hell Bent, the sequel that came out earlier this year.

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Book review by Alyssa Berry, Technical Services Librarian

The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by V.E. Schwab

Addie LaRue was born in the wrong time. Her world is too small; she feels trapped by the village she lives in and trapped by the expectations that society has for her. She dreads the inevitability of marriage which will take away the bit of freedom she has managed to create.

When she finds herself on that final threshold – promised to a widower looking for a mother for his children – she cries out, begging to be given a path out of the future her parents and neighbors have planned for her. And someone answers.

A stranger appears, offering exactly what she wants, as long as she is willing to pay. Addie asks for time and for freedom, to belong to no one but herself. She agrees to give up her soul to the stranger, but only when she no longer wants it.

The side effects of her deal become evident almost immediately. Addie heads back home, grateful to have avoided her fate. She is shocked when her mother does not recognize her. Worse yet, as soon as her mother leaves the room she forgets having seen Addie. She disappeared from her mother’s memory as soon as she was out of sight.

Everyone Addie used to know treats her like a stranger, she is now alone in the world. She belongs to no one and she never will.

Three hundred years later, now living in New York City, Addie has managed to build a life for herself on the fringes. She has become an expert at living on only what she can steal.

Then, everything changes. Addie finds herself in a used bookstore, looking for something to pass the time. She makes a selection and walks out the door, knowing that the clerk will forget her as soon as she is out of his view. Until he chases her down to confront her about the theft. When Addie comes back the next day, certain that their interaction was a fluke, he says three words that she thought she would never hear again: “I remember you.”

Addie is confused, delighted, and desperate to form her first real human connection in hundreds of years. She knows that this man, Henry, could be a trap set for her by the stranger, but she cannot walk away from the possibility that he presents.

She tells Henry about everything: the stranger, the deal she made, and its consequences. For three hundred years, her curse has kept people from understanding Addie’s story but Henry listens – and he believes her. Because he made a deal too.

THE INVISIBLE LIFE OF ADDIE LARUE by V. E. Schwab is an unusual novel, to say the least. It jumps back and forth largely between Addie in 1700s France, struggling through the limits of her new life, and Addie in 2010s New York City. The novel is surprisingly optimistic. Despite Addie’s tragic circumstances, she is able to find joy in her invisible life. She is still delighted by the people that she meets and awed by the experiences that she has only had because her life has gone on this long.

On the other hand, Addie and Henry are both keeping secrets – and the stranger has not given up his hopes of collecting the soul of Addie LaRue.

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Book review by Alyssa Berry, Technical Services Librarian

The Scholomance Trilogy by Naomi Novik

Beginning with A DEADLY EDUCATION, Naomi Novik’s Scholomance trilogy is a contemporary fantasy series about magically gifted teenagers forced to struggle for survival in a school determined to destroy them.

Once a year, the fourteen-year-old magically-inclined children of the world are pulled into the Scholomance – a sentient school designed to teach them how to use their powers. After four years, those who survive are sent back to their families.

The danger inside the school pales in comparison to what waits for untrained magic-users outside the school. When they are young, their parents can protect them. However, as their powers develop, they are more likely to attract maleficaria – monsters that eat magic and the people able to cast it.

The school itself keeps most of the maleficaria out, but it is not foolproof. Students are in constant danger of being attacked. Mals are able to get into the one portal that links the Scholomance to the real world: the graduation door.

Graduation is the last gauntlet that Scholomance students have to face. In order to leave, students must face the mals that have made it inside since the previous graduation.

El has spent the last three years keeping to herself. This is part of the strategy she developed for survival: keep under the radar until her final year, then reveal her powers and find a team with a good chance of getting out alive.

And it would be working, if not for Orion Lake.

No one attracts El’s ire like Orion Lake, the golden boy of the school. He represents everything that she hates most about their world. His mother is a high-standing member of the magical organization in New York, one of the biggest in the world, and he behaves like a storybook hero. He spends all his time fighting other people’s battles – literally.

Inside the Scholomance, it is supposed to be every student for themselves. Danger lurks around every corner and the school is doing its best to put weaker students at risk – with fewer students its resources will go further, after all. Everyone has to make their own way.

Now that she is one of the most experienced students in the school, El finds herself confronted with what this philosophy actually entails. Against her better judgement, she realizes that she cannot let others get hurt when she has the power to help them.

Throughout the first two books, El builds relationships with her fellow students, letting her guard down after three years of mutual distrust between herself and her classmates.

Unfortunately, the more she learns about them, the harder it is to face that many of them will not make it out of the Scholomance. But between her closely-guarded powers and Orion’s superhero attitude, maybe they can work together to fix this broken system.

Naomi Novik’s Scholomance Trilogy concluded last fall with THE GOLDEN ENCLAVES, which starts directly after El’s graduation. Even though they are back home, El and her friends have to hit the ground running. Being magically gifted has not gotten any easier now that they are out in the real world.

 

Review written by: Alyssa Berry, Technical Services Librarian

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Hogfather by Terry Pratchett

There are many stories about the resilience of Christmas. From Rudolph’s shiny nose making it possible for presents to be delivered to Scrooge providing a goose dinner and presents hoping to improve his Christmas Yet to Come. But none of them is as weird and wonderful as the book I am about to share with you.

On the back of an enormous turtle swimming through space sits the Discworld, a flat disc of a planet full of wizards, barbarians, assassins, and technology run by imps. It is a place where the odd and magical is commonplace, but tonight something is definitely wrong.

Death – scythe-wielding, cloak-wearing Death – is out on Hogswatch Night, the yuletide celebration of the longest night of the year, but there is no Hogfather to be seen. The jolly old man with the sleigh pulled by hogs should be going rooftop to rooftop delivering presents. Where is he?

With no other options, Death dons a red coat and a false beard and starts delivering presents himself.

During his travels he visits the home where his granddaughter – Susan – serves as the nanny for two small children. Death refuses to explain what he is doing. He knows that Susan’s curiosity will force her to find out what happened to the real Hogfather.

As Death’s granddaughter, Susan is one of the few adults able to see creatures that children believe in. Her charges frequently call Susan in to deal with monsters living under their bed. She deals with them quite roughly using her weapon of choice, the fireplace poker.

Susan does take matters into her own hands, first traveling to the Hogfather’s palace in the very hub of the Discworld. From there she goes to visit the wizards of Unseen University who have been having troubles of their own.

Since Hogwatch began every time the wizards reference an imaginary creature – such as a monster living in the laundry room who eats socks – that creature appears. Susan deduces that this is due to a buildup of belief. Belief that should be manifesting the Hogfather.

Hoping to find out more, Susan visits a friend of hers who works as a tooth fairy. What she discovers is that her friend has been kidnapped by the same people who are attempting to destroy the Hogfather.

She follows their trail to the Tooth Fairy’s realm, a world completely powered by the belief of children. There Susan attempts to rescue her friend and save the Hogfather – and Hogswatch Night for children around the Disc.

Terry Pratchett’s Hogfather was published in 1996; it is the twentieth novel set in the Discworld. The series has a total of forty-one books. It is a comic fantasy series, which does not take itself too seriously. Pratchett pokes fun at literary and fantasy tropes while — at the same time — reveling in them.

In Hogfather, Pratchett alludes to the story of the little match girl. A child trying to sell matches door-to-door who is destined to die this Hogswatch because no stranger is willing to take pity on her. But not while Death is the Hogfather. He puts a stop to that traditional narrative by restoring some of the sand in her hourglass.

Sir Terry Pratchett is an institution in England, but he may be somewhat unknown here in the United States. His brand of absurdity and humor is an absolute delight, and I encourage you to give HOGFATHER a try this holiday season.

Review written by: Alyssa Berry, Technical Services Librarian

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A Magic Steeped in Poison by Judy I. Lin

In Judy I. Lin’s debut novel, A MAGIC STEEPED IN POISON, certain people — those who have been blessed with Shennong’s gifts — are able to use the ingredients and rituals of tea brewing to weave spells.

Some can use their power to see the future, others can brew teas that affect the mind, and some can heal. Practitioners of these arts are called shennong-tu, and masters are called shennong-shi.

Ning, a teenage shennong-tu, has been invited to the imperial palace to participate in a competition hosted by the emperor’s daughter. The competition will determine who will become the court shennong-shi, and win a favor from the princess.

She and the other trainees face a series of challenges to prove their skills. Winning will require a strong magical gift and a deep knowledge of tea. It will also require the strength of character to withstand the machinations of the court.

Ning is desperate to win a favor from the princess. Her sister, Shu, is gravely ill – poisoned by tea distributed to celebrate the Mid-Autumn Festival. Many people throughout the empire died as a result of the poisoned tea. Shu’s ongoing illness does not react to any antidote that Ning or her family have access to; the only way to save Shu is with the princess’s help.

As the competition progresses, Ning begins to form friendships with other people from the palace. In particular with Kang, the son of the banished prince – the current emperor’s brother. Kang has returned from exile to petition his uncle and cousin to right the wrongs that their people are suffering.

Ning and Kang form a bond before she knows who he is, before she knows the dangers of associating with him. Their connection does not go unnoticed by the princess. She tasks Ning with finding out Kang’s true motivations for returning to the capital.

As the princess well knows, there are those who are working against her. Not only out in the empire, but within the palace walls.

Now embroiled in a world completely alien to her own, Ning must navigate her loyalties to the princess, to her family, and to Kang – who she is now inextricably connected to after they shared a cup of tea.

The magic of Shennong requires a sacrifice of the user. When Ning is exerting her powers to look into someone’s mind, they can see into hers. If she uses her powers to heal someone, she has to experience their pain to do it. And the more magic she uses on a person, the more deeply they are bonded.

The world that Judy I. Lin has created is shaped by a deep mythology that simmers under the surface of her novel. She has carefully considered the layout of her world and the ways that geography, politics, and religion have shaped different regions. Ning feels like the proverbial fish out of water when she comes from the fringes of her small town into the heart of the country.

A MAGIC STEEPED IN POISON is a character-driven fantasy novel within a beautifully rendered world. Lin’s turns of phrase are poetic and deeply evocative. Her descriptions of food – and tea, of course – will send you straight to the kitchen.

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The Cartographers by Peng Shepherd

Nell Young’s whole life is maps, it always has been. Her father is a world-renowned expert in mapmaking and cartography at the New York Public Library, and he raised her to love maps as much as he does.

She followed in his footsteps through college: studying cartography and earning a highly-competitive internship in the NYPL’s Maps Division. All signs pointed to her earning a full position there when she graduated.

Until the Junk Box Incident. Nell and her father had a very public fight over a map and he fired her in front of the entire office. With her reputation as an up-and-coming academic ruined, and all her connections in the field broken by the loss of her father’s support. Nell was sentenced to a maps-adjacent career designing decorative maps for people’s living rooms.

After the fight, Nell wanted nothing more to do with her father. Although he had fostered her love of maps, he was a somewhat inattentive parent. He had done his best as a single father after her mother’s death, but he always felt distant.

Nell stayed away from him, and from the NYPL, for years. But she finds herself back in the library after hearing the news that her father has passed away at his desk. Looking through her father’s papers, Nell is shocked to find the map that she and her father fought about all those years ago – the catalyst of the Junk Box Incident. A nondescript, mass produced gas station map of New York’s highways.

During her internship, Nell discovered the junk box in the storage room of the Maps Division. Inside she had found some very rare and valuable maps, and – inexplicably – the gas station map. When she ran back to the office with her discovery, her father claimed that the maps in the box were fakes and fired her on the spot. What she cannot understand is why he seems to have held onto that worthless gas station map until the day he died.

As she looks into the history of the map, Nell discovers that every other copy has been claimed by a mysterious group called The Cartographers. Whether by purchase or theft, every copy of this map – in museums, libraries, archives, private collections, and antique shops – has disappeared.

Unable to stop digging into a mystery that is quickly taking over her life, Nell begins to chase down the people her father was in contact with before his death – people who turn out to be her parents’ college friends. They give her new insight into her family history and show her the real potential that maps hold, if you know where to look.

THE CARTOGRAPHERS by PENG SHEPHERD hops back and forth between Nell’s story and the first-person recollections of this older group of map enthusiasts. They tell her about events she was too young to remember and the truth behind lies that she has been told to protect her. The reader listens alongside Nell as she hears these stories from her past.

The book itself is a compelling blend of realism and fantasy. While much of the story is designed as a straight-laced mystery, there is magic here. It is a magic that feels almost plausible – and, if you read the author’s note, you will find that it is a magic that is very nearly real.

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The Annotated American Gods by Neil Gaiman

Recently, an item appeared on my cataloging shelves that I needed to read immediately: THE ANNOTATED AMERICAN GODS by NEIL GAIMAN; edited with notes by LESLIE S. KLINGER. I did not know this book even existed before it appeared on my shelf, but I was very familiar with AMERICAN GODS – Gaiman’s epic novel that blends classical mythology into contemporary America.

The novel follows Shadow Moon, a recent ex-convict who has just received news that his wife has died in a traffic accident – along with his best friend. Finding himself with nothing to go home to, and no connections worth pursuing, he reluctantly accepts a job offer from Mr. Wednesday, a man who Shadow just met, but who seems to know a lot about him.

Mr. Wednesday hires Shadow to be his personal driver and bodyguard. This job takes him all over the country. Wednesday introduces Shadow to an eclectic group of strange, otherworldly people. As he gets deeper into Mr. Wednesday’s world, he discovers that these people are gods, brought to America by humans centuries ago.

When humans immigrated into the country, they brought with them the stories and belief in these old gods, this faith permeated the country, and made it a place where the gods could thrive. In this modern age, belief in these gods has begun to fade. Humans have turned to new deities – Technology, Media, and others – who are taking the belief and getting stronger while the old gods become weak.

Mr. Wednesday is organizing the old gods against their new counterparts – trying to form an army and wage war against them, to destroy them and restore the old gods’ power.

The old gods come from all over the world, from Norse, African, Irish, Egyptian, Slavic, and Hindu mythologies, and many, many others. Gaiman has managed to bring them all together seamlessly in a rich, dense story full of unforgettable scenes.

This novel is truly an epic tale, like one of classical mythology. The summary above, while encompassing the novel, only covers one of the story threads that Gaiman has woven together to make this masterwork. In the course of the novel, Shadow also finds himself at the center of a murder-mystery in a small town in Minnesota, where young girls go missing with suspicious frequency. Not to mention that Shadow is being watched by a specter from his past for much of the story.

AMERICAN GODS is simultaneously an epic fantasy and an American road trip novel. Gaiman has a deep love for nostalgic Americana, and it shows. The book begins in Oklahoma, but Shadow and Wednesday travel all over the country, from Florida to Chicago – San Francisco to Kansas.

Gaiman has an understanding of the importance of road trips in American culture, of the feeling of driving down a long, empty stretch of road surrounded by fields. And the sad emptiness of the abandoned tourist destinations that have been passed over by the creation of highways.

Mr. Wednesday refuses to take the highways.

AMERICAN GODS has gone through a few editions since it was first published in 2001. Most notably, the wide release of the author’s preferred text – in the tenth anniversary edition in 2011. It has also been adapted into a comic series by Dark Horse Comics, and a Starz television series. This edition, published in 2019, is the author’s preferred text, with footnotes denoting when the text varies from the first edition.

The footnotes also give context to all of the gods and creatures that appear in the novel, which makes them a wonderful resource. Gaiman rarely explains what mythology he is referencing, leaving it up to the reader to investigate or ignore the history of the character. Klinger’s footnotes add a depth of understanding that I really appreciated.

THE ANNOTATED AMERICAN GODS is gigantic and beautiful. In addition to the footnotes, artwork depicting the gods and stills from the television show are also presented alongside the text. Having all of this together in one volume is a fan’s dream. I would encourage you to read this edition if you have read the book before – I assure you that you have never experienced the story like this.

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