In his 2000 novel American Gods, beloved cult fantasist Neil Gaiman established a world of survival-seeking former gods, some clinging to their half-forgotten mythoi, some seeking a new place in the new world. He'd pictured the survivors of defunct pantheons much the same way in his groundbreaking comic The Sandman, but American Gods fleshed the concept out in depth, creating a world so rich that it seemed a shame to confine it to only one novel.
So it seems natural enough that Gaiman has returned there with Anansi Boys. But the new book takes a distinctly different tone: Where American Gods was a quirky but weighty road novel, Anansi Boys is a lighter, looser, more playful fable, not quite in, but close to the mode of Gaiman's one-time collaborator Terry Pratchett. Like most of Gaiman's novels, Anansi Boys opens with a patsy, a slightly hapless man with a slightly unhappy life and no idea that there's a larger world outside his own awkward experience. Fat Charlie Nancy isn't fat, but the nickname his eternally embarrassing, larger-than-life estranged father gave him in childhood has stuck with him like a leech. Even when his father suddenly dies in a karaoke bar, Fat Charlie is more humiliated by the circumstances than grief-stricken. He can't bring himself to take seriously the things an old neighbor tells him about his dad's true nature as the former African trickster-god Anansi, or about the revelation that he has a brother who inherited Anansi's semi-divine powers. But on a whim, he takes the neighbor's advice and asks a random arachnid to summon his brother, Spider. Who promptly arrives, bringing along a window into a larger, less predictable, but more rewarding world—and also a huge pile of trouble, of which Spider is the biggest part.
Anansi Boys contains a couple of traditional-style Anansi fables, and the book itself takes a similar ambling but wry, pointed tone; like any good Anansi story, it's about cleverness, appetite, and comeuppance, and it's funny in a smart, inclusive way. And like any good Gaiman book, it's about the places where the normal world and a fantastic one intersect, and all the insightful things they have to say about each other. Initially awkward in prose after a decade of scripting comics, Gaiman has steadily evolved into a comfortable, humorous storyteller whose lively modern fairy tales take protagonists—and readers—on rewarding journeys out of mundanity and into more colorful realities. Anansi Boys just does so with a bigger wink and a bigger grin than most.