Good Omens is one of those books where claims of a cult following is not an exaggeration. Even my own immediate family is affected. My aunt worships this book. If books were gods, Good Omens would have an altar in her backyard. A big one.
This book is a collaboration between two bestselling authors, Neil Gaiman, and Terry Pratchett, both with their own passionate and loyal fanbase. Of course, this particular book was written thirty years ago. Long before Terry Pratchett became Sir Terry Prathcett and Neil Gaiman reached such a cult status that he’s guest-starred in everything from The Big Bang Theory to the Simpsons.
It’s a book that’s, once again, in the spotlight since a miniseries based on the book will Premier on Amazon Prime on May 31tst (2019). Sadly, Terry Pratchett passed away in 2015, but his co-author Neil Gaiman has been highly involved in bringing this story to the small screen.
In Good Omens, you enter a world where Heaven and Hell have been preparing for their final showdown since the beginning of time. Except now, with the birth of the Antichrist, the end times are coming. In like a week.
This is particularly troublesome for Crowley, a Demon and his best friend Aziraphale, an Angel. Unlike their fellow Angels and Demons, these two have been on earth since The Beginning. As the apocalypse goes from an abstract goal to reality, these two unlikely friends realize they’re not too fond of the idea. They like earth. It’s filled with great things like books, Bentleys, and Queen. Who doesn’t like Queen?
A fan of Buffy the Vampire Slayer can revisit Spike’s “I like the world” speech from the season 2 finale, and you’ll have a good idea of what’s happening here. On a similar note, fans of the show, Supernatural will feel right at home. Granted, Supernatural, for the most part, takes itself more seriously than Good Omens does, but the political realities of Heaven and Hell are quite similar.
What happens next includes prophecies by a slightly unhinged, seventeen-century witch, self-proclaimed witch hunters, the Four Horsemen (on motorcycles), Angels being bureaucratic assholes, and demons who overreact when you’ve accidentally misplaced the Antichrist. There are also Satanic nuns, patriotic Americans, and Hellhounds.
Oh, and the Antichrist is an eleven-year-old boy.
Hopefully, by now, people who are not fond of religious satire have figured out that this isn’t a book for them.
Good Omens is a comedy, with a very British sense of humor.
If you are familiar with Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman though their individual work, this book feels more like Pratchett than Gaiman. During interviews, both authors have stated that the original idea was Gaiman’s, but that Pratchett wrote more words and composed the final draft. Personally, I feel that’s noticeable in the text.
Both authors took charge in writing certain characters but then switched. There’s a little of them both in all the characters. However, if you’re familiar with their work you can, for the most part, tell which author created which character.
Although, the thing with the maggots could only be Neil Gaiman.
Despite the emphasis on Crowley and Aziraphale in the blurb, this book follows several characters, many with their own points-of-view, some more prominent than others. These include Newton Pulsifer, newly recruited witch-finder. Anathema Device, multi-great granddaughter of Agnes Nutter, Witch. Madam Tracy, a medium, and of course, the Antichrist.
Crowley and Aziraphale are my favorites. Nothing beats a bookish Angel holding on for dear life in a speeding Bentley while the Demon driving blasts Queen at maximum volume. I wish we could have spent more time with the supernatural duo.
To be honest, I was oversold on this book. Unfortunately, during all those enthusiastic recommendations, people around me failed to mention that Crowley and Aziraphale were two characters among many others. If you decide to read this novel, you need to know there are big chunks of this book where they are not the narrative focus.
That being said, all side-characters are well-rounded. There are many entertaining plotlines that all steer in one direction and come together in a satisfying way. No side-plot feels out of place or unnecessary, no side-character unimportant.
It’s unavoidable that you, as a reader, will have favorites. Just because I favor Crowley and Aziraphale doesn’t mean the others aren’t likable or interesting, I just have a thing for sassy demons.
One thing that’s often said about this book is that it belongs on the big (or small) screen. I agree. It’s a visual story with scenes that, while reading, you want to see with your own eyes. Not because the writing makes it difficult to picture what is happening, but because you know it would be hilarious. I’m really looking forward to the miniseries. I think this is a story that will work great on tv, and the trailer looks fantastic.
So, is it a good book? Short answer, yes. It’s entertaining. The plot is clever, the central conflict funny, and the characters charming.
That being said, the antagonists are basic without internal motivation. They’re just bad. But that’s the point. This is satire. Good Omens relies on a specific type of humor that will not appeal to everyone.
If British humor, satire, sarcasm, absurd events, and outrageous characters aren’t your preference, you will not like it. But, if you find yourself singing along to the end credits of Monty Python’s, Life of Brian this perfect. You’ll love it.
Personally, I feel ambivalent towards it. As I said, I’ve been oversold on this book.
I’ve been trying to put my finger on what it is about Good Omens that leaves me feeling unsatisfied. I should love it. Broken down into individual parts, it ticks all my boxes. Funny, sarcasm, religious satire, sassy demons, check, check, check, and check. I should be riding the cult train by now. I’m not.
I think it all boils down to the fact that I love both Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman as individual authors.
I love Terry Pratchett for his quirkiness, his wordplay, satire, sarcasm, and humanity. I love his Discworld. If I could move to any fantasy world, I would move there.
I love Neil Gaiman for his atmospheric world-building and his intriguing characters. I love his weirdness and originality.
I like Good Omens, but I don’t love it. It’s not enough Terry Pratchett or Neil Gaiman, it’s something in-between.
These two authors are so different. Neil Gaiman is not funny. Terry Pratchett’s world-building is lovely, but it’s not atmospheric.
Pratchett has a language that you want to dissect just so you can get the joke. Gaiman’s voice makes you want to light candles, wrap yourself in black velvet, and stylishly sip your dainty glass of Absinthe.
These two styles don’t mix well. Good Omens works because the idea is good, and these are two talented authors. But, it is a book where their individual voices have been scaled back to make it cohesive.
This is how I feel. There are plenty of Gaiman and Pratchett fans who think this collaboration is the most fantastic thing ever. So, don’t give my opinion too much weight. Just keep in mind that if you pick up this book, it’s not a Terry Pratchett or a Nail Gaiman novel, it’s something else.
Good Omens is an entertaining book.
It’s a wonderful religious satire. If the thought of cute little nuns worshipping Satan and squeeing over baby Antichrist makes you giggle, this book will be just your thing.
However, if you are a fan of one or both authors, you need to understand that it won’t be “their” book. Both have scaled back on their individuality, originality, and personal style to tell this story.
That doesn’t mean it isn’t fun. The plot is entertaining, and most of the characters are well-written. Over-all it’s a clever idea. It’s a visually exciting story with a fantastic Queen soundtrack.
But, don’t make the same mistake as I did. Don’t go into this book with expectations. There is a Death in this story, but it’s not Terry Pratchett’s, DEATH nor is it Neil Gaiman’s Sandman, Death.
This book is what happens when two talented, but entirely different authors write a book together. It’s well-written and entertaining. But, it is a compromise.