Review: ‘The Monarch of the Glen’ by Neil Gaiman

‘The Monarch of the Glen’ is billed as “an American Gods novella”.

For my money it’s better conceptualised as an extended epilogue to ‘American Gods’.

After the events of ‘American Gods’ its main protagonist, Shadow, wanders around in Europe, backpacking, looking for something he can’t quite define. He ends up in Scotland and puportedly because of his immense size and his ‘I’ve been in prison’ body language he is hired to provide security for a high-class party at a castle. He agrees, but then it turns out that things are not what they seem and security is the least of what his employers will require of him.

As in its parent novel, ‘The Monarch of the Glen’ features gods and monsters, myths and legends, all in mundane guises. There’s a cameo by Odin. There’s Grendel, from Beowulf. There’s a huldra called Jennie who perhaps has the hots for Shadow.

I read it in an hour. It’s well-crafted, with no flab or drag. I just wonder if this novella could stand on its own without the glow of ‘American Gods’ or Gaiman’s celebrity.

I find Shadow problematic as a character. For one thing he seems to lack agency. I understand the need to drift a bit after a major cataclysm, but Shadow’s motivation in accepting the job is unclear to me. He seems slightly thick, to be honest. He is warned not to go and had several opportunities to abort the mission. This does not stop him.

He allows himself to get caught up in circumstances similar to what happened in ‘American Gods’, suggesting he hasn’t learnt a simple lesson about taking jobs from strange old men, jobs that only his bulk and his jailbird status qualify him for.

I would recommend it as long as you read it second. I enjoyed the novella, but I wonder how it would fare if I had not read ‘American Gods’ first.

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