By Neil Gaiman
Illustration ©2019 Francis Vallejo from The Folio Society edition of Neil Gaiman’s Anansi Boys.
The asymmetrical sequel to Gaiman’s American Gods, Anansi Boys makes use of the same dramatic conceit, that Gods exist and walk amongst us. However, this story from Gaiman is more of an urban folk tale, utilising a variety of authentic sources to bring us the myth of Anansi and his sons. This Folio Society edition is the ultimate treatment of Gaiman’s story and its illustrations bring to life the tale in a way that invokes the early 20th century treatments of western fairy stories and folk takes.
The beautifully illustrated slipcase is a collage of dramatic images from the book, carefully textured to produce a mixture of tactile sensations. Tiger, Spider and Anansi himself, complete with green fedora, dominate the swirling colours, in a way that is both abstract and vivid, depicting the surreal interactions of Gods and mythic creatures of legend.
Within the case, we have a cover that is a similarly dramatic depiction of the Anansi Boys, Spider and Charlie, separated across the spine of the book. This is something of a spoiler to the plot but can be read in a number of ways and so doesn’t give anything away until you read the book and look at it again. The edges of the pages are a beautiful black and green spider web motif, demonstrating the high-quality production value of this special edition treatment.
After arranging his own imminent marriage, Charles Nancy returns to Jamaica for the funeral of his estranged father, known only as Anansi. During his short trip, he attempts to reconcile himself with his childhood and the people who knew him growing up. When he returns to London, he is visited by a brother he didn’t know he had, the enigmatic and mischievous Spider, who arrives unannounced and immediately begins to upset the balance of Charlie’s carefully constructed life. The two find their outlook on life almost completely incompatible, until Spider uncovers a sinister secret involving Charles’ boss, Grahame Coats.
Gaiman’s writing is, as always, high-quality stuff and Anansi Boys benefits from being carefully plotted, as many of Gaiman’s more accessible works are. Where American Gods felt aimless at times and shifted between different story objectives, Anansi Boys remains focused on the mystery of Charlie’s heritage, blending myth into the urban environment of London and the idyllic paradise of Saint Andrews. The result is less of a sprawling epic, but a more of a modern myth, making the book a complimentary novel to its predecessor rather than an attempt to continue or reposition the struggle between old and new gods. Indeed, the perspective of Charles and Spider on the work of Wednesday and Shadow remains unclear as the previous story is not referenced. This stays true to Gaiman’s vision of gods as schemers, with self-serving agendas that can occasionally be judged by the reader as right or wrong.
The interior art of the book is also, beautifully drawn. The black and white depictions creep around the text, whilst the full-colour pages and two-page spreads retain the same dramatic and abstract layering as the cover and slipcase. There is a clever play with the viewer’s eye, drawing people’s attention to the character subject wherever they appear on the page.
If you are a Neil Gaiman fan and have a collection of his work, this volume from The Folio Society is a must have to sit alongside the slipcase editions of his Sandman comics.
The recent BBC audio drama adaptation of Anansi Boys also won the 2018 British Fantasy Society Audio Award.
The Folio Society edition of Anansi Boys by Neil Gaiman, introduced by Nalo Hopkinson and illustrated by Francis Vallejo, is available exclusively from www.FolioSociety.com
Written on 6th March 2019 by Allen Stroud .