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8 stories to read while you wait for the next season of American Gods

8 stories to read while you wait for the next season of American Gods


Transactional magic

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Illustration by James Bareham / The Verge

The first season of American Gods ended with a bang earlier this week, leaving us with a long wait until we get to see just what happens next for Shadow, Wednesday, and the others. However, like The Handmaid’s Tale, the show is based on a novel, and there’s a number of others about similar things: gods and magic.

Here are eight stories that you should check out while you wait for the show to return.

Image: William Morrow

Anansi Boys by Neil Gaiman

The logical place to start with this sort of list is Neil Gaiman’s companion novel to American Gods, Anansi Boys. Charles Nancy learns that his father, Mr. Nancy (played by Orlando Jones in the Starz series), has died. Soon, he discovers that his father was the trickster god Anansi, and that he also has a brother, Spider, who has inherited his father’s gifts. When Spider enters his life, he turns it upside down. The novel isn’t quite a sequel to American Gods, but it does share a few characters, and explores some similar territory, like gods walking the Earth alongside their subjects.

The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden

Deep in the forests of medieval Russia, winter lasts much of the year. There, Vasilisa listens to fairy tales and traditions, and discovers the spirits and creatures that live in the woods, and in her house. When her father remarries, Vasilisa finds that her stepmother dislikes the old ways, and forbids the family to worship the household spirits. Meanwhile, an ambitious priest preaches Christianity. The two set the family on a collision course for a supernatural struggle, especially as something begins to awaken deep in the forest. Arden’s novel doesn’t quite deal with Gods, but it does play with the idea that supernatural beings play a role in everyday life, and that faith in their existence plays a role in keeping the world safe.

Spellbreaker by Blake Charlton

Blake Charlton’s latest novel concludes his Spellwright trilogy, in which a warden helps hunt down feared creatures called Neodemons, and learns that she’s prophesied to kill someone she loves. What sets this book apart is Charlton’s description of magic: it’s a textual-based practice system that allows its wielders to essentially write the base code for reality. That allows for the rise of fantastical gods that are magically written and rewritten to serve specific purposes, and which are brought to life by the prayers of their followers.

The Craft Sequence by Max Gladstone

Max Gladstone’s urban fantasy Craft Sequence plays out a fantastical world over the course of five novels: Last First Snow, Two Serpents Rise, Three Parts Dead, Four Roads Cross, and Full Fathom Five. (A new installment of the series, The Ruin of Angels, is due out in September.) Here, he treats Magic as a transactional experience: Gods subsist on the prayers of their followers, and the churches that support them subcontract or invest these prayers in other, larger magical systems, much like a commodity in an economic system.

Image: Viking Books

The Last Days of Magic by Mark Tompkins

Magic has begun to vanish from the world, and in England, the local gods and deities are facing an existential crisis as Christianity spreads across Europe. Missionaries spread the word of the Gospel from Rome, leaving communities and the creatures that existed alongside humans for centuries, forced out or killed. Aisling is a goddess who was born to rule the Middle Kingdom and the Celts, but as the beliefs of humans begins to wane as Britain is taken over, they get ready to wage a war for their existence.

Kraken by China Miéville

In China Miéville’s 2010 novel Kraken, London’s Natural History Museum discovers that one of its prized specimens, a Giant Squad, has vanished into thin air. As he works to track down the missing creature, Cephalopod researcher Billy Harrow learns that London has a fantastic underworld: there’s cults such as the Congregation of God Kraken, which has existed before the beginning of humanity, as well as the Fundamentalist and Sect-Related Crime Unit, a counter-sorcery police unit. The disappearance of Harrow’s squid’s might possibly bring about the end of the world.

Broken Monsters by Lauren Beukes

Detroit Detective Gabriella Versado comes across a strange body in the beginning of Lauren Beukes’ novel Broken Monsters: the torso of a boy fused to the body of a deer. Something is killing people in a city that’s tearing itself apart, and Versado becomes obsessed with the case. The story takes on fantastic overtones as people call upon ancient powers, and Beukes explores the impact of the supernatural on a decaying Detroit.

Image: Orbit Books

Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by N.K. Jemisin

N.K. Jemisin’s debut novel (and its sequels The Broken Kingdoms and The Kingdom of Gods) follows Yeine Darr, who is summoned to Sky, a floating city, following her mother’s murder. She is named the heir to her mother’s throne, enmeshing her in a power struggle with her cousins. Her family keeps four enslaved gods in their household, using them as weapons, and Yeine learns that they are frightening creatures who have their own plans for her as she works to uncover her mother’s murderer.

Of course, given that the Starz series adapts only a small part of Neil Gaiman’s original novel, it’s worth picking that up as well, to see just what might be in store for Shadow Moon, and the others in season 2.