Are you on the hunt for more books like American Gods?
I have been a fan of Neil Gaiman longer than I’d care to remember and American Gods was just one of his many books which cemented my devotion and instigated my own search for more books like it. I have read it as a teenager and loved the fantastic nature of the narrative and again as an adult and was impressed by the many strings of mythological references and the novel’s stark look at America – inferences missed in my youth.
The novel is the perfect blend of scares, thrills and mystery, centring around the character Shadow who becomes embroiled with the enigmatic Mr Wednesday who claims to be a former god and the king of America.
Shadow accepts a job to be Wednesday’s bodyguard and together they journey across America visiting different acquaintances who Shadow later realises are all manifestations of the Old Gods and Mr Wednesday is recruiting them to join him in a battle against the New Gods (all of which are expressions of modern life).
This list of fantastical books like American Gods often helped fill the Gaiman shaped void on my bookshelf while I’ve waited for his next novel and I hope they help you through too.
9 Books like American Gods
Kraken, by China Miéville
As with a lot of books like American Gods, the authors have drawn inspiration from well know myths or mythical creatures and woven them into modern narratives that explore some relevant themes disguised with these fantastical elements. In the case of Kraken by China Miéville, he has written about the infamous giant squid against a backdrop of gangland London, heretics, assassins and surreal magic.
Billy Harlow is a cephalopod specialist who is plunged into a bizarre situation when the Giant Squid from London’s Natural History Museum vanishes into thin air during a tour he was giving. Billy is eager to get to the bottom of what happened but not as eager as a religious group of squid worshippers, a merciless criminal mastermind and a collection of wizards and spirits; all of whom believe the squid to be an unborn god.
All are eager to either harness or prevent the power of this embryonic god being used because when applied properly these powers can bring about the End of All Things. Weird, wacky, funny and fearsome, Kraken is a novel sure to blow your mind.
Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell, by Susanna Clarke
Onto the origins of wizardry and magic in our next novel like American Gods, it is Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke. Set in historical England where people have long since forgotten the old magicians who used to wander the lands with their fairy servants, that is all except Mr Norrell, a wealthy recluse who has learnt magic from the lost and forgotten books that depict England’s magical past.
After raising someone from the dead, Mr Norrell is enlisted by the government to help in the war against Napoleon Bonaparte where he conjures rain spirits to deter the advancement of their ships. Everything goes well until another magician emerges, the charismatic and confident Jonathan Strange.
Excited by the prospect of another practising magician, Mr Norrell begins tutoring Jonathan Strange but it quickly becomes apparent that their ideas of magic, and what it should be used for, are very different.
Despite coming in at a good 800 pages, Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell has a remarkable ability to leave you wanting more.
Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West, by Gregory Maguire
Gregory Maguire has taken the story of The Wizard of Oz and turned it on its head in his stunning novel Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West.
In Maguire’s Oz, he takes us far beyond the yellow brick road, Dorothy and Toto; he takes us all the way back to the day a green-skinned girl called Elphaba was born and tells her side of the story because no one is ever born truly wicked.
Elphaba grows up with intelligent, talking animals who are constantly striving to be treated like first-class citizens, where she is often outcast and mocked for being and looking different, revealing herself to be a smart, determined and wholly misunderstood witch.
Such a rich imagination and rife with allegory, Maquire has you questioning everything about a story you thought you knew so well, Wicked is a wonderful novel (and awesome musical if we ever get the chance to go to a theatre again), to get lost in perfect for anyone looking for a book similar to American Gods.
Small Gods, by Terry Pratchett
If you like American Gods for the reincarnation of old and new gods and exploration into politics, religion and modern life then you are sure to enjoy Small Gods by Neil Gaiman’s long time friend and collaborator, the eternally wonderful Sir Terry Pratchett.
The thirteenth novel from Pratchett’s popular Discworld, the story centres around the origin of the god Om and his prophet Brutha. Pratchett dissects their relationship while satirising religious institutions, their people and practices and roles in political life, for in Discwold, everyone follows a religion and in turn their own set of gods making it a very competitive landscape if you happen to be a manifestation of a god.
Gaiman and Pratchett have very similar perspectives and vivid imaginations, which is why they worked so well together, and though the novels were published nearly a decade apart you can draw some comparisons between the two which makes Small Gods the perfect read for anyone longing for more books like American Gods.
Circe, by Madeline Miller
Madeline Miller has become renowned for her exploration into mythology and the stories she weaves out of well-known heroes and stories and Circe, her 2018 novel, is no different.
Circe is a strange child. A daughter of gods who doesn’t wield any sort of power like her parents. She finds solace among mortals and slowly realises she does in fact have a power, the power of witchcraft which threatens the gods, so much so that Zeus exiles her to an abandoned island.
Here Circe hones her craft and meets many familiar beasts and doomed mythological characters and unwittingly becomes the target of both some angry gods and mortals to forcing her to make some difficult decisions – does she return to her rightful home among the gods or remain among the mortals she has grown to love and who themselves have grown to accept her?
Shortlisted for the 2019 Women’s prize for fiction, Circe is the perfect read for anyone wanting to read a book similar to American Gods.
Have you already read this novel? Check out our list of more books like Circe!
Anansi Boys, by Neil Gaiman
Anansi Boys was actually the first book by Neil Gaiman that I ever read, and was the one that started my love affair with his books. Though published after American Gods and technically not a sequel, the character of Mr. Nancy, an incarnation of the West African god Anansi known for his tricks and cruel jokes, makes an appearance in both novels.
Fat Charlie was living a relatively normal life that is until the day his father, Mr Nancy, dies on a Floridian karaoke stage. He consequently finds out his Dad was a god and he has a twin brother, Spider who seems to have inherited their fathers abilities and penchant for mean tricks.
The novel follows their adventures getting to know one another which involves duping Fat Charlie’s boss and fiancé, imprisonment, embezzlement, armies of spiders, ghosts and reincarnation (among so much more) blended with Gaiman’s trademark humour and imagination.
It is fair to say any fan of books like American Gods will like any number of books by Gaiman but Anansi Boys for me is a logical next read.
His Dark Materials Series, by Philip Pullman
Another series of books I read as a teenager and have returned to over the years in need of escape is Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials.
The three novels; Northern Lights (published as The Golden Compass in the United States), The Subtle Knife and The Amber Spyglass follow two children Lyra Belacqua and Will Parry as they journey across a number of parallel universes searching for answers to familial secrets, the meaning behind the intriguing dust and mysteries of these other realms.
There is kidnapping, double-crossing, murder, rebellion, religion, rescues and (what always fascinated me in my youth) daemons, animals who are external forms of their human’s souls.
His Dark Materials has many fantasy elements which readers of books like American Gods will enjoy such as witches, wizards and armoured bears as well as explorations into deeper theories surrounding religion, philosophy and physics which is why reading them again as an adult is just as thrilling as when they are read in one’s youth.
The Hobbit, by J.R.R. Tolkien
I couldn’t really put a list of fantastical books like American Gods together without J.R.R. Tolkien’s Hobbiton, cruel dragon Smaug, precious Gollum and spectacular Middle Earth making an appearance. Tolkien wrote The Hobbit for his own children and as well as delighting them, he has delighted millions of children across the world with his reluctant hero Bilbo Baggins.
Bilbo Baggins is a hobbit, a small person, half the size of a regular human with furry feet who lives in a comfy, friendly hole in the ground. One day Bilbo Baggins is convinced, by the esteemed wizard the grand and gracious Gandalf to embark upon a mission with thirteen militant dwarves to retrieve their treasure currently being held captive by the dragon Smaug.
Their dubious mission has them encountering trolls, elves, Gollum and his invisibility ring, giant spiders, wargs and eagles and, of course, fire-breathing dragons. It is a mile-a-minute and still astounds me to this day, The Hobbit is one to be enjoyed time and time again.
Have you already read this classic fantasy? Check out our list of more books like The Hobbit!
Oryx and Crake, by Margaret Atwood
If Neil Gaiman is the king of the imaginative and fantastic narrative, then Margaret Atwood is surely the queen! Her novel Oryx and Crake, though dystopian in nature, blows my mind with Atwood’s ability to conceive such a world.
In an imagined future where our protagonist Jimmy, or “Snowman” as he is often referred, may be the only human left because the world as we know it is now overrun with animal mutations and the green-eyed engineered Children of Crake – the only other living beings able to survive in the harsh, baron landscape the earth has become.
We follow Jimmy as he navigates and tries to survive in this “new” world all while mourning the loss of his friend Crake, the creator of this world, and Oryx the beautiful enigmatic woman they both loved.
With a dual narrative describing past and present events we learn just what happened to the titular Oryx and Crake and how Jimmy came to be the last man on earth. Haunting in its feasibility Oryx and Crake is a great novel to end this list of books like American Gods.
Books like American Gods are enduring, they can be enjoyed by young adults thanks to their veils of fantasy but also as adults where the dominant themes and important messages become clearer, they are the perfect novels to be read and enjoyed again and again.
Are you searching for more books like American Gods? Have any recommendations that didn’t make the list? Let us know in the comments!