William Morrow, 2005, 336 pages
God is dead. Meet the kids.
When Fat Charlie's dad named something, it stuck. Like calling Fat Charlie "Fat Charlie." Even now, twenty years later, Charlie Nancy can't shake that name, one of the many embarrassing "gifts" his father bestowed, before he dropped dead on a karaoke stage and ruined Fat Charlie's life.
Mr. Nancy left Fat Charlie things. Things like the tall, good-looking stranger who appears on Charlie's doorstep, who appears to be the brother he never knew. A brother as different from Charlie as night is from day, a brother who's going to show Charlie how to lighten up and have a little fun, just like Dear Old Dad. And all of a sudden, life starts getting very interesting for Fat Charlie.
Because, you see, Charlie's dad wasn't just any dad. He was Anansi, a trickster god, the spider-god. Anansi is the spirit of rebellion, able to overturn the social order, create wealth out of thin air, and baffle the devil. Some said he could cheat even Death himself.
Anansi Boys is a sequel to American Gods, but it's really more of a companion novel, making the West African gods, who only got a brief mention in American Gods, the chief pantheon here. Other than that, there are no mentions of characters or events from the previous book, though one might infer that Anansi's "death" is related.
The protagonist is Fat Charlie, a timid, kind of dull Londoner working a mediocre job for a horrible boss and engaged to a lovely, rather silly young woman.
Early in the book, Fat Charlie's dad, who had always been kind of in and out of his life, and mostly embarrassing the hell out of him when he was in it, dies. Fat Charlie goes to the funeral, meets up with some of the older people he knew in childhood, and finds out his father was actually a god. Anansi, the trickster spider-god of West African folklore, to be precise.
Shortly after that, Fat Charlie's long-lost brother shows up. The smooth-talkin', smooth dancin', totally hip and romancin' Spider immediately takes over Charlie's flat, his job, and his life. He even takes Charlie's girl away from him.
Charlie wants to get Spider out of his life, but getting rid of a god is kind of difficult. Fortunately, Anansi had enemies who are only too happy to help get rid of one of Anansi's children. Unfortunately, Charlie is also one of Anansi's children.
For all that this was a fantastically entertaining story, it left me with the same feeling of shallow indulgence I got from American Gods. Neil Gaiman spins a yarn wonderfully, but his writing has become almost formulaic, and he's joined the ranks of authors who recycle characters because making up new ones is too much work. Even the jokes and the banter and snappy come-backs between Fat Charlie and his cartoonishly horrible mother-in-law-to-be felt like the same thing I was reading in Neverwhere and Good Omens. Charlie Nancy is the same old hapless Everyman suddenly buffeted about by powerful supernatural forces, his fiance is the same old good-hearted but kind of useless and annoying girlfriend, the mother-in-law is just a caricature of comical malignancy, and Daisy, the "exotic" Singaporean-Somalian-British cop, plays the role of the Woman Who Is Actually Interesting. (Because, uh, she's a cop, and she's "exotic" - yes, I'm pretty sure Gaiman actually used that word. I think it was meant to be ironic, but still, much eye-rolling.)
And the plot was, while a new spin, still just a spin on the plot from American Gods.
Anansi Boys is a good book, in the sense that it's well-written, it has fun characters, and if you like modern fantasy mixed with mythology, Gaiman does it better than most. I guess I still have a lingering sense of disappointed expectation from the 90s Gaiman who was hip and cutting-edge.
Have you read this book?
Have you read other Neil Gaiman works?
Do you want to read this book after reading this review?
Verdict: A West African-by-way-of-London follow-up to American Gods, Anansi Boys is another well-told Gaiman tale that will not disappoint diehard Gaiman fans, and should appeal to any contemporary fantasy fan. It doesn't up his game at all and if you've read a lot of Gaiman's work, this book will have a very familiar, comfortable feel about it.
Also by Neil Gaiman: My reviews of American Gods and The Dream Hunters.
My complete list of book reviews.