The Biblical apocalypse of Revelations, along with the figure of the antichrist, has long been popular in horror and fantasy fiction. From The Omen to the recent Supernatural, these much loved and repeated ideas seem to have been covered from every possible angle. But Good Omens offers something a little different. Pratchett and Gaiman cleverly play around with the clichés of the genre, subverting expectations and showing a very human side to the hosts of heaven and hell. The apocalypse has never been done as well, as cleverly, as humorously, or with as much heart as in Good Omens.
Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett write as if they were born to co-author a book. Both have the same sharp eye and dry wit; they share a similar outlook, and the same slightly rambling style. Jokes, rather than given in quick punches, are built upon in layers that keep on delivering laughs throughout the book. The humour can be enjoyed regardless of belief, religion and cultural background, though some familiarity with the pop culture and eschatology surrounding the Christian apocalypse (the four horsemen, the antichrist, etc) will be needed to appreciate many aspects of the plot. Amazingly, Good Omens also manages to deal with some very important theology without patronising religious beliefs, resorting to cheap jabs, or distorting the ideas behind Revelations beyond all recognition, as much other apocalypse-themed fiction has the tendency to do. Yes, it pokes fun, but it is very good natured fun!
One of the huge strengths of the novel is the range and quality of its characters. Each character is completely unique, brought to life through the use of clever descriptions and personality traits that the reader will instantly recognise from the world around them. Whether man, woman, witch, angel, demon or antichrist, every single character is a real, believable person, with hopes, fears and reactions that are recognisably human. One of the book’s particular gems is Dog, the hellhound sent from hell to be the antichrist’s protector and companion, and shaped by his thoughts and wishes. As the antichrist is an 11 year old boy unaware of his destiny, those wishes are for “one of those dogs that’s brilliantly intelligent and can go down rabbit holes and has one funny ear that always looks inside out.” This leads to a somewhat confused hellhound that nevertheless seems much happier in its new existence.
Atlanteans, Americans and Tibetan tunnels; angels, demons, hellhounds and witches; tapes that turn into ‘Best of Queen’ after too long in the car; the four horsemen of the apocalypse; Beelzebub and Metatron; the antichrist and his Dog; and the Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter – the strange forces of heaven and hell have been unleashed, and by next Saturday (just after tea) the world will end. Good Omens is a witty, well-written, amusing and highly enjoyable story of what happens when the best laid plans crash headlong into the unpredictability of humanity.
The end is nigh and the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse are on the move. Meanwhile, an angel and a demon decide they quite like things here on Earth. It helps that the adolescent Antichrist was switched with the wrong infant and he rather enjoys his normal earthly life. That, in the proverbial nutshell, is the premise of Good Omens. On the brink of Apocalypse, we realise that just being human isn’t so bad after all.
This collaboration between Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman takes an inverted look at the events foretold in the Book of Revelation and portrayed in the cult classic film, The Omen, concerning the coming of the Antichrist and his role in the pending Armageddon. Fans of the fantasy writers will not be disappointed with this joint project, which blends their creative styles into a seamless account of the days before the looming end. Familiar trademarks and characteristics of both authors appear in the novel, perhaps the most obvious being Death, a staple figure throughout Pratchett’s Discworld series.
If you are unfamiliar with the writers, or have never seen The Omen, you will still find plenty to appreciate in Good Omens. However, if you are unacquainted with pop culture or the themes of Revelation, the wit of the narrative may lose it vibrancy. In fact, if you are unsure who the Apocalyptic Horsemen are (or, for that matter, Queen or Elvis), you may want to do some research before reading the novel.
With an ensemble cast of colourful characters, Good Omens sports multiple plotlines that ultimately converge in a dramatic conclusion. The primary function of the novel is entertainment: a sharp satire laden with one-liners, footnotes and memorable characters. However, there is education to be had in the many references to history, music, Revelation and pop culture.
Little demonic Damien from The Omen would likely have exorcised himself if he knew how much fun this alternative life could have been. Adam, the Antichrist of this novel, is not unlike the comic character Dennis the Menace, a terror to the neighbourhood with a band of eager accomplices, yet loved in spite of it all.
The multiple plotlines may at first seem scattered and random, but they come together well as the narrative continues. And while much of the humour may seem superfluous to the plot, it lends an air of mischief and provides an additional, if divergent, chuckle. This pattern of humour is used to great effect in the character descriptions, making almost every character likeable. For example Crowley is an angel who "did not so much fall as saunter vaguely downwards".
A smart, engaging novel with a well-thought out plot, Good Omens is not, however, a page-turner. There are plenty of instances when the book has to be put down for a while so you can clutch your sides in a futile attempt to contain your laughter. If laughs were raindrops, Good Omens is a downpour.
Publishers Weekly: This zany tale of the bungling of Armageddon features an angel, a demon, an 11-year-old Antichrist and a doomsaying witch; unmistakably British humour is in abundance.
Sunday Express (London): Huge fun.
Harper Collins: brilliantly dark and screamingly funny take on humankind's final judgment
Good Reads: a humanist delight to be savoured and reread again and again.
James Herbert: A superbly funny book. Pratchett and Gaiman are the most hilariously sinister team since Jekyll and Hyde. If this is Armageddon, count me in.