“A collaboration between two of the greatest fantasy authors of our time.”

 

NO MAJOR SPOILERS

Both Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman have proved their writing chops time and time again, and it’s not hard to see why both writers have such a large and dedicated fan base. The idea of two great writers working together on one story might not sound like a great idea after all, too many cooks spoil the broth, and yet that’s exactly what Pratchett and Gaiman did when they began working on Good Omens back in the late 80’s. The book was first published in 1990 and has since become hugely popular and is often considered to be among both Pratchett and Gaiman’s best works. Having enjoyed the separate works of both authors, I decided it was high time I crack open my own copy of Good Omens and see what all the fuss is about.

Good Omens tells the story of the last few days on Earth as The Rapture draws ever closer. The forces of heaven and hell are primed and ready, the four horsemen of the apocalypse have saddled up, and all that remains is for the antichrist, a young boy in England called Adam, to lead the charge. Caught in the middle of this epic struggle is an angel named Aziraphale and a demon named Crowley who, despite their differences, have become rather good friends over the millenniums and are somewhat put out by the idea of all life on Earth being snuffed out. Both have become rather fond of humanity and have enjoyed the countless centuries they’ve spent subtly interfering with us to further the cause of good and evil respectively. God’s plan may be ineffable and infallible, but these two representatives of light and darkness are determined to at least try and subvert the master plan.

Once Crowley and Aziraphale learn the Antichrist is set to be born, they decide to influence the boy’s life with lessons in good and evil in the hope that he’s ultimately unable to choose one over the other, thus allowing neither good or evil to come up trumps in the war that’s to come once the boy turns twelve. Unfortunately, due to a major cock up, the antichrist is switched at birth with another baby and the two pals end up influencing a normal young lad who, thanks to a lot of meddling, has been named Warlock. The real antichrist is being raised by a perfectly normal family in a quiet town in England and bears the somewhat more subtly name of Adam. As Adam’s powers begin to manifest themselves, it’s up to Crowley, Aziraphale, two incompetent witch hunters, and the descendant of a 17th century witch who wrote a book called The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, to save the day and prevent Armageddon.

As much as I enjoy the works of both Pratchett and Gaiman, I was a little sceptical going into Good Omens. The two authors are such distinct writers that I was concerned that the novel might feel somewhat disjointed by having two writers penning it. I wondered how obvious it might be as to who was writing what. Would I finish one chapter that was obviously written by Gaiman and then begin the next with a sentence that was distinctly Pratchett? I was pleasantly surprised to find that this isn’t the case at all. The book’s writing really does feel consistent throughout and at no point did I feel like it was the brainchild of two authors rather than one.

Though Good Omens may be a story about the end times, it’s every bit as humorous and tongue in cheek as you’d expect from a work of Pratchett’s, it also includes the occasional bit of darkness that you’d expect from Gaiman, in particular a scene where several people are eaten alive by maggots. Though, as I said, these moments never feel disjointed from one another and flow together nicely. As you might expect from a book written by two distinctly British authors, Good Omens is full of British humour and even includes the occasional footnote to clue in overseas readers. The world may be about to end, but it’s all being experienced by quintessential Brits, from a lovely middle-aged woman who moonlights as a dominatrix, an awkward young man who struggles with his self-esteem even in the face of Armageddon, and a tough as nails Scotsman who considers anyone born south of Scotland to be a southern softy. The mortal characters in Good Omens are typical of the sort of folks you might meet in the likes of a Douglas Adams novel.

Whilst the story focuses on Crowley and Aziraphale’s attempts to save the world, the book does include a number of subplots. We get to join the Four Horsemen, War, Death, Famine, and Pollution (He took over after Pestilence quit following the discovery of penicillin) as they saddle up on their motorbikes. We follow Adam as he grows up in rural England with his faithful gang of friends, and of course there’s Agnis Nutter, a witch from the 1600’s who saw all this coming and wrote a book of prophecies to help her descendant aid in averting the Rapture.

As much as I enjoyed the subplots and side characters, I personally found Crowley and Aziraphale to be easily the most enjoyable characters in the novel. They’re complete polar opposites to each other and yet, as often happens with us mortals, they’ve become quite good friends as they’ve bickered through the centuries. You may assume that Crowley is utterly evil and Aziraphale is a saint, but it’s more nuanced than that. Crowley may be working for Satan but his efforts consist of more subtle woes on humanity such as cold callers and poorly optimized motorways. Aziraphale may be a force for good in the world but he can come across as a little smug. The two of them do share an amazement at how much good and evil humans are capable of regardless of supernatural intervention. It seems we have a lot more imagination than those on high. I genuinely found their friendship to be very enjoyable and I’d love to read more of the two. Pratchett and Gaiman seem to have felt the same way and did toy with ideas for a sequel but, alas, such a book never came to be. The passing of Pratchett in 2015 makes it very unlikely we’ll ever see a follow up, but I am pleased to report that the BBC and Amazon are teaming up to produce a Good Omens mini series that is set to air later this year. David Tennant, Michael Sheen, and Jon Hamm are set to star.

Good Omens is certainly a book that lives up to its reputation and is a must read for anyone who has enjoyed either Pratchett or Gaiman’s other works. Those who enjoy a good slice of British humour will also adore it and, though it may be a comedy at its core, Good Omens does occasionally raise some rather thought provoking questions now and then when it comes to the nature of mortals and the constant struggle between good and evil. If you’re stuck for something to read, then I heartily recommend you give this one a go.

 

Reviewed by:

Thom Peart

Added 14th February 2018

More Reviews By
Thom Peart

NO MAJOR SPOILERS

With such a magnificent author pedigree, you would expect Good Omens to be pretty spectacular – and it does not disappoint. A firmly tongue in cheek re-telling of “The Omen”, this is funny and dark in equal measure.

I had previously thought that the darker edge running through this novel was down to Gaiman. However, Gaiman’s comments in 2014 about the late, great Sir Terry being anything but a twinkly old elf, and rage being the motor behind his writing, makes me think that maybe Gaiman just brought something else out in Terry’s writing – or maybe it was the collaboration itself which brought this magical alchemy out. Whatever. It works for them.

This is a classy piece of writing very much aimed at adults, and laugh out loud funny; even when you really think you shouldn’t be doing so.

It has some brilliant observations to make about the nature of humanity, pride, evil and, of course, religion. I want to give you some examples of these – but that will just spoil it for you and frankly, it’s much better to read them as they were written than to get my half-arsed rendition of them.

I may be biased but I can’t imagine anyone not liking this book and I’m only sorry that there were no more Pratchett/Gaiman collaborations. This is one of my all-time favourite re-reads.

 

Reviewed by:

Debbie McCarthy

Added 9th May 2015

More Reviews By
Debbie McCarthy

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