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.