Wednesday, March 28, 2012

“Age of Anansi” by James Lovegrove (Solaris)


A Pantheon short story

A journey into a dark heart of deceit, lies and ancient gods.

Dion Yeboah leads an orderly life... until the day the spider appears. What this ordinary-looking arachnid turns out to be is Anansi, the trickster god of African legend, and its arrival throws Dion’s life into chaos.

Lawyer Dion’s already impressive legal brain is sharpened. He becomes nimbler-witted and more ruthless than ever before, both in and out of court. Then he discovers the price he has to pay for these newfound skills. He must travel to America and take part in a contest between the avatars of all the trickster gods. In a life-or-death battle of wits, at the end only one person will be left standing.

This was my first Pantheon story – I keep getting distracted from the others, and for a while I laboured under the misconception that they were chronologically linked, when they are actually all stand-alones. I’m really glad I read this, though, as it’s a great introduction to Lovegrove’s writing and also the conceit of the series: what would life be like if these ancient myths, legends and deities were real? In Age of Anansi, the trickster gods are real, and eager as ever to mess with the humans. I enjoyed this.

Our main character, Dion, is a highly skilled and successful lawyer in London. He is quite resistant to his ancestral roots at times, ambitious and driven to the extreme, utterly focused on succeeding and being the best he can be – whether he has to be ruthless to get there is beside the point. When Anansi starts appearing to him, things get pretty weird pretty quickly, until Dion accepts the existence of the god (big, scary spider that he is), and the two of them team up. Before long, they are shipping off to Las Vegas for the great Competition. How long will it be before things go from “merry prankster” to “mad hatter” to “deadly”? This isn’t going to be easy, and Dion will have to draw on all his research and intellect to stay in the game, come out on top, and even stay alive.

I originally wasn’t sure how Lovegrove was going to fit Anansi into the story. After all, as Dion himself says, “Anansi certainly did not have a place in twenty-first-century London.” But, Lovegrove does a great job of linking the trickster god to Dion’s heritage, thereby creating a link back to Africa, which allows Anansi to bond with our protagonist.

I thoroughly enjoyed all the information and mythology Lovegrove includes in the story about various trickster myth – from Africa, North America, Germany, Japan, Egypt, Norse, and more – and the use of a competition was a great way to bring all the mythologies, from all over the world, together into one place. Tricksters are some of my favourite deities (certainly from North American, Chinese, Japanese and Norse mythologies – the ones I’m most familiar with), and I think the author’s done a great job of staying true to the source material while also giving it his own spin.

“Our exploits tell people that it’s okay to bend the law, okay to be different, okay not to toe the line. Sometimes you’ve just got to stick a finger up, or two fingers, or whatever your culture’s preferred gesture demands. It frees you. It reminds you that individuals make a society, not the other way around. We’re the gods of that. We’re the worms in the apple barrel of every pantheon.”

It’s also interesting how similar some trickster myths are, across such wide divides – for example, Anansi and Coyote even have some similar tales and pranks in their ‘pasts’.

This is a good, fun and entertaining short story. It has an ending that is absolutely befitting the premise and story (it’s tragicomic, but leaning heavily towards the tragic). It’s really made me want to rush out and get Age of Aztec, but I’ll have to wait a little longer for the Kindle edition to be released.

Brilliantly researched and put together, Age of Anansi is a great taste of the Pantheon series, and comes highly recommended.

Pantheon Series: Age of Ra, Age of Zeus, Age of Odin, Age of Anansi, Age of Aztec

Also on CR: Interview with James Lovegrove


  1. Very nice review, Stefan. I've read two of the PANTHEON novels (Age of Zeus and Age of Odin) and really enjoyed both novels. Each novel approached the gods differently, but effectively.

    1. I'm particularly interested in Age of Odin and Aztec - love Norse and South American mythology. (I should also read Aliette De Bodard's series, while I remember...)