Review: Good Omens by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman

I read this book a long time ago and loved it; what finally pushed me over the edge into buying a physical copy (my to-buy list is long, and my book budget tragically restricted) was the tv adaptation. I haven’t seen it (because I refuse to sign up to more than one streaming service), but I’ve seen enough snippets and references that I had to re-read the book.


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According to The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch (the world’s only completely accurate book of prophecies, written in 1655, before she exploded), the world will end on a Saturday. Next Saturday, in fact. Just before dinner.

So the armies of Good and Evil are amassing, Atlantis is rising, frogs are falling, tempers are flaring. Everything appears to be going according to Divine Plan. Except a somewhat fussy angel and a fast-living demon—both of whom have lived amongst Earth’s mortals since The Beginning and have grown rather fond of the lifestyle—are not actually looking forward to the coming Rapture.

And someone seems to have misplaced the Antichrist . . .

The structure of this book is unusual, but effective, and it’s actually hard to pin down the protagonist as any one character1. Crowley and Aziraphale are iconic. The combination of twisty, lovable bastard and overly-literal, prissy softie being best friends is not stale and never will be. Their dynamic draws the book along inevitably, the panic of two otherworldly beings adequately indicating the scale of the problems facing the protagonists. Adam and the Them are thoroughly loveable, anyone who enjoys the loveable hijinks of the kids in Stranger Kids will be thoroughly entertained by the not-so-evil Anti-Christ and his buddies. Newt and Anathema’s interactions are great, especially with the addition of generations of Anathema’s relatives via ‘the Book’ and its annotations. The combination of Hunter/Hunted is a classic, and much like the rest of the book, Newt and Anathema’s interactions allow for an examination of good and evil, right and wrong, free will and destiny. Grand themes perhaps, but familiar classics in Fantasy and Sci Fi, genres that Terry Pratchett and Neil Gamain have well and truly mastered.

The vivid imagery in this book successfully evokes events both familiar and unfamiliar2, from the frustration of a call from a telemarketer, to the terror of a confrontation with a Prince of Hell. The masterful use of language and metaphor, helped along with large doses of absurdity and comic relief, make Good Omens a thoroughly relevant, entertaining read. Environmental commentary and jabs at Americans abound within the pages of this novel, and sadly both are more relevant than ever.

The comic relief also comes in the rather strange form of the Four Horsemen, and their earthly counterparts. The fourth rider shares enough similarities with the Discworld’s Death to entertain any long-term Terry Pratchett fan, yet remains a character of the Good Omens universe in his(?) own right. If you can read the quote below without laughing you are made of stone.

“”I imagine Ligur here would give his right arm for a chance like this.”
“That’s right,” said Ligur. Someone’s right arm, anyway, he thought. There were plenty of right arms around; no sense in wasting a good one.”

I hate to end on a down note, but I can’t in good conscience end the review there.

The only thing I didn’t enjoy in the book) were the homophobic slurs directed at Aziraphale—always played for laughs and coming from characters presented in a bad light. I remember reading the book in the mid-2010s and not taking any notice, but re-reading in 2019 it’s hard not to flinch a little. I feel the need to clarify that I genuinely don’t believe the book or the jokes are homophobic. Comedy rarely ages well, and all of the other jokes in the book hold up, especially considering Good Omens was originally published in 1990. I’m not attacking or defending the use of language in this novel, just making a note for anyone considering reading (or re-reading) the novel.

 

 

1Ditto for antagonists actually. Unless you count the combined forces of Heaven and Hell? Plus whatever the Four (Greater) Horsemen are

2I hope

 

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