Luck Takes Many Forms
Mabel Merriweather grew up knowing she was lucky.
“Luck of the O’Gormans,” said Ma, drawing a line on Mabel’s palm with a finger. “See that mark there?”
“It’s a freckle.”
“Maybe, maybe. But that freckle is the shape of a heart, see? That’s the sign of the Luck. We’re lucky, you and I. Aunt had it, and me Grandma too. And her ma a’fore that, and back before that.”
Mabel, aged seven-and-three-quarters, was naturally cynical. She was aware that adults can be tricky beasts, prone to teasing the innocent – but also, being a child, she was naturally curious.
“Me and mine,” said Ma, folding Mabel’s small hand into a fist, “who bear that mark are naturally lucky. ‘Tis a fact.”
Mabel thought they didn’t seem that lucky, being as Da had just died, run over by a runaway horse in the middle of the street. “But –” she began.
Ma shook her head vigorously. “But me no buts, girl. Accept it, and do right, that’s what my Ma always said, aye, and her Ma too, and that’s what you should do as well.”
Later that day, dressed all in black, the widow Merriweather and her daughter visited the lawyer. Mabel felt overwhelmed by the richness of the office: shiny leather, polished wooden chairs and stained glass windows, just like those in church. She sat on the edge of the chair nervously swinging her feet and held her laced-edged handkerchief to her face, as Ma had instructed.
The lawyer-man, a be-whiskered gentleman by name of Master Smitherson said many things to Ma in long words that Mabel did not understand. But she did as Ma bade her and spoke when spoken to and said please and thank you and ask they left Mister Smitherson pressed a bright shilling into her hand and patted her on the head.
“You’re a good girl, Mabel,” he said, “A very good girl. And I’m sorry about your Da, but at lease he had the forethought to provide for you. Most fortunate that.”
Mabel nodded, but she missed Da. He wasn’t ever coming back again. Her lip trembled.
Then Ma curtsied and the lawyer bowed and there they were, out on the street.
“Well!” said Ma. “Well!” Her face was flushed. “What did I say about luck? Who’d have thought poor Charlie would have thought of life insurance? But there you go, that was Charlie. Bless him, bless his kind soul.”
Ma seemed suddenly affectionate to Da, which seemed strange after all the shouting and name-calling and bottles being thrown. Still, it was a relief to see her smiling.
“And the first thing we’ll do,” Ma decided, “is to get you into a really good school, Mabel.”
Abruptly, Mabel’s spirits sunk. “Ma –”
But her mother wasn’t listening. “Yes my dear, you should always be grateful for your luck. Always.”
If you want to listen to this short story, just push this button here:
Three Great Holiday Reads
Are you looking for a great book to read on holiday? Well, I’ve just been on holiday! Lucky me 🙂
On this holiday I’ve discovered three AMAZING reads that I’d love to share with you. Here’s some of them:
Lies Sleeping – by Ben Aaronovitch
The newest release from Doctor Who writer Ben Aaronovitch is out! Lies Sleeping is the most recent instalment in the Rivers of London series. If you’ve not yet discovered the Rivers of London, then lucky you, because you’re in for a treat. These stories, set mostly in London, follow the adventures of Peter Grant, Detective Constable and apprentice wizard. Although each story is a stand-alone, they do form a continuous adventure, so you’re best to start at the beginning and read right through if you can. More information on the Rivers of London series here: rlstedman.com/doctor-who
In Lies Sleeping, Peter is fighting the Faceless Man and his ex-copper friend, Lesley, to prevent the downfall of London. Will he be able to solve the clues and so prevent the end of the world as he knows it?
In the story we also learn more about the nature of Molly, the mysterious domestic servant at The Folly, the Wizard’s Headquarters in London (and never to be referred to as Hogwarts, because Hogwarts is fictional!). Of course, we see more of Beverley Brook, Peter’s girlfriend and part-time goddess, and discover the true story behind the nefarious Mr Punch.
I’ve thoroughly enjoyed reading the Rivers of London: the characters are lively, funny and believable and each book is a gripping read. The settings are great, too – Peter always comments on the architecture or the scenery, so these books are better than a guidebook! I used to live on the Kennet Canal, which feeds into the Thames, so it’s a lot of fun to read about an area I know well.
To be honest, I didn’t find Lies Sleeping quite as good as the earlier books in the series – I do wonder if Aaronovitch is getting a little over Peter Grant. But still, it’s a great read, and full of the trademark Londonisms and snarky humor that sets this series apart. Highly recommended, especially if you’re planning a visit to London.
Find Lies Sleeping on AMAZON: https://amzn.to/2SJ
Hyperion – by Dan Simmons
Hyperion is a stunning book! If you love epic science fiction, like Dune or Asimov’s Foundation Series, Hyperion is a must-read. Here’s the blurb from Amazon:
“On the world called Hyperion, beyond the reach of galactic law, waits a creature called the Shrike. There are those who worship it. There are those who fear it. And there are those who have vowed to destroy it. In the Valley of the Time Tombs, where huge, brooding structures move backward through time, the Shrike waits for them all.”
Hyperion tells the backstory of seven pilgrims who set forth on a final voyage to Hyperion and to the Shrike. Each pilgrim has had their own encounter with the Shrike, and each relays this in their own voice.
Hyperion is beautifully written, and the characters and action are unbelievably good. Like the best stories, Hyperion deals with the nature of evil, the evidence for God, and the reason for existence, all set against a backdrop of exceptionally gifted world-building.
I have a little quibble about the role of women in the story (I felt that most of the women in this story were there for sexual interest only) but whatever, Simmons is not the first sci-fi writer to relegate women from the action, and at least the book is amazing.
Part Canterbury Tales, part Keatsian epic (‘Hyperion’ is also a poem by John Keats), this is one of those stories you have to read again and again. It’s a classic (and I can’t believe I’ve only just heard about it!). My son told me about this book, which only goes to show that it is so worth getting your kids into science fiction.
Find Hyperion on AMAZON at: https://amzn.to/2SHRqWG
The Wizards of Once – Cressida Cowell
A new book by the author of How To Train Your Dragon, this is a fabulous fantasy story.
“Once there were Wizards, who were Magic, and Warriors, who were not. And there were Witches, too, who wove evil magic: the kind of magic that kills larks and brings only darkness. But Witches were all killed by the Warriors – or so it is thought. Until Xar, son of the King of Wizards and Wish, daughter of the Warrior Queen collide in the wildwood … And magic is changed forever.”
Wizards of Once is probably aimed at competent middle grade readers around 9 – 13 years, but I totally enjoyed it, much to my nephew’s amusement! 🙂
Cowell is a fantastic author: the story rips along, and the characters are beautifully drawn (literally, as the book is illustrated by Cowell herself). Wizards of Once felt like Diana Wynne Jones crossed with Roald Dahl and flavoured with a little bit of Alan Garner. Anyone who enjoys English-based fantasy will love this story.
I’ve not listened to the Audio version, but it might be worth checking the audio edition, if only because David Tennant (aka Doctor Who) is the narrator.
Find The Wizards of Once on Amazon at: https://amzn.to/2Fi40Ir
Amazing Urban Fantasy
What is Urban Fantasy?
Urban fantasy stories are tales of magic, but unlike other fantasy sub-genres, like Epic Fantasy (think Lord of the Rings) or High Fantasy (like Game of Thrones), they’re set in the real world. Urban fantasy stories are HUGE on TV, film, and books. They’re the oldest kind of story. I think urban fantasy is amazing!
Here’s some tips on how to craft a great urban fantasy story:
1. Use Recognizable Settings
Make sure the reader recognizes the setting of the story.
The house design is familiar, or the story takes place in a well-known city.
Generally, urban fantasies occur in a man-made environment, although sometimes they’re set in at the boundary between the urban and the wild. Like the story of Hansel and Gretel: the witch who lives in the woods in a house made of gingerbread.
2. Plot Structure
Often UF’s follow the typical hero’s journey:
- At the start of the story, the protagonist is happily living his/her life, ignorant of the magical world. Generally, he will be from of humble origins and not blessed with any special powers. He or she will be ordinary. Good-hearted, perhaps, and sometimes naive. At the beginning of the tale, the hero never sees themselves as special.
- Then … enter the miraculous; the theatrical; the magical. Generally, in an Urban Fantasy, the magical is a total, freaky surprise to the hero. Of course, the reader will know that its there, because it’s an Urban Fantasy, after all!
- Frequently, upon entering this magical realm, the hero finds they have a super-power. He or she might be amazingly talented, or beautiful or desirable. Sometimes the hero discovers he’s from a magical dynasty and was hidden at birth to protect him from opponents of this dynasty. (Harry Potter, anyone?)
- Sometimes the hero is the secret hope of the hidden world, but perhaps he’s a bystander. Either way, he’ll have to use his newly-discovered powers to overcome a threat, and in so doing will return to the real world changed.
- He may leave the real world altogether and continue in the hidden lands, or he may continue as a bridge between the worlds, and move at will between them.
- There are variations on this. For example, the hero may be inside the hidden realm at the start of the story – in which case, entering our real world may be a total shock.
But either way, all this is good stuff for a story, right?
3. What Tone Should I Use?
Urban fantasy stories are generally funny, although sometimes they’re dark, almost gothic in tone – Vampire stories are classic UF but they’re rarely funny.
Where there is humor it usually comes from the contrast between the magic and the real, and how characters in the magical realms just don’t get technology, or vice-versa.
But wait – there’s more!
I love reading and writing urban fantasy, and gradually I’m focussing more and more on the genre.
Over the next few blog posts I’ll showcase some of my favorite UF books, but right now I’m going to leave you with an Excerpt from Welcome to Faery.
Excerpt: Beauty is a Subjective Term
I’ve put this story below as it demonstrates many of the points above. (P.S. You can download this entire story collection at this link here: https://bookhip.com/VHJFPS)
– Define: Fairest
The Queen tapped her fingers on the marble dressing table. Click click click. Nails filed to a killing point. ‘Stupid Mirror. “Fair” means “beauty”.’
– Define: Beauty
The last mirror had done what she’d asked. But oh no, the dwarfs had talked her into this new one, saying magic words like ‘memory’ and ‘voice activation’ and ‘ram’ and she hadn’t wanted to look stupid, not in front of a bunch of dwarves. And now look at this super-sleek mirror; so beautiful on the wall and yet so, so useless. How was she supposed to find Snow White without a working mirror? An upgrade, they’d said, as if an upgrade was a good thing.
The Queen threw a crystal jar across her chamber. It shattered on the stone tiles, spilling musk-flavored perfume. A serving girl scurried to clean it up, ducking low to avoid any other stray objects that the Queen might throw.
‘I mean, you stupid mirror, is there anyone else in this Kingdom more beautiful than I?’
– Define: More beautiful
The Queen paused. How does one define beautiful, anyway? ‘Girl,’ she said over her shoulder.
The maid paused in her cleaning. ‘Yes, my Lady?’
‘What makes someone beautiful?
Kneeling on the floor, the maid carefully placed shards of glass onto a folded piece of paper. ‘Like you, my Lady?’
The Queen smiled. This girl was intelligent. ‘Exactly,’ she purred. ‘Like me.’
The girl scrambled to her feet, bending her head. ‘Beauty, my Lady? Ah, maybe something like clear skin. Red lips.’
‘Is that all?’ The Queen was disappointed. ‘Why, you have red lips.’
‘Thank you, my Lady.’
‘There you are, mirror.’ The Queen turned her back on the servant. ‘I want you to find out for me if there is anyone in the Kingdom with clearer skin and redder lips than I.’
Behind her, the girl went to get a mop and bucket.
– Subjective terms. Reframe your search parameters
‘Servant,’ called the Queen.
The girl was folding the paper into a funnel, ready to pour the glass into a small tumbler. ‘Yes, my Lady?’
‘What does it mean now?’
The girl ducked her head. ‘I think, my Lady, it does not understand your question.’
‘Why not? I am perfectly clear.’
Tap-tap went the nails. The Queen’s hand twitched towards another glass bottle and the girl added quickly, ‘It’s a dwarf mirror. My Ma works for them. They’re scientific. Need to use very specific terms, to get their magic working.’
‘Specific terms?’ asked the Queen grimly. ‘I’ll show them how specific I can be. With my wand, I can very specific.’ She sighed. ‘So. What should I ask this wretched mirror?’
‘May I, my Lady?’ The girl indicated the space beside the Queen.
The Queen nodded, and the servant stepped beside her. She smelt of musk perfume and bleach. Her face, what the Queen could see of it behind the fall of grubby hair, seemed pale. She was right to be nervous, thought the Queen grimly. Persons that got too close to her were apt to have a significantly shortened lifespan.
‘Mirror mirror,’ said the girl softly.
‘I said that. Didn’t I say that?’
‘That’s just the start command.’
‘Oh,’ said the Queen. ‘I knew that.’
The girl cleared her throat. ‘Definition input.’
‘Beauty = Fair. Beauty: blemish-free skin.’
‘Amazing,’ thought the Queen. ‘How does she make that noise in her throat? It sounds just someone choking.’ She frowned, remembering: red apple, blood falling on snow.
– Define: blemish
‘Definition input: Crease, line or wrinkles.’
‘Freckles,’ whispered the queen.
The girl nodded. ‘Definition continues: moles, warts, lentigines, skin tags.’
– Definition received
‘What is a lentigine?’ asked the Queen
‘Like a freckle.’ The girl pointed at a sunspot on the Queen’s hand. The Queen moved her hand quickly, hiding the imperfection. ‘So now, if you ask it to tell you who is the most beautiful in the land, it will tell you who has the clearest skin.’
‘Well,’ said the Queen, looking pleased, ‘that’s very clever. Back you go, girl, clean up that mess. The perfume is giving me a headache.’ The girl crept back to the floor and the scrubbing brush.
The Queen stared up at the mirror’s silver screen, tapped her finger and asked: ‘Mirror mirror, who is the most beautiful in the land?’
On the screen appeared faces, flickering in and out, changing too rapidly to recognize any individual. A montage of faces, from happy to sad, from fat to thin, in a rainbow of skin tones. All clear-skinned, all beautiful.
All of them children.
The Queen screamed, stood up, backed away from the mirror. She stumbled over the servant, still scrubbing the floor.
‘Your Majesty. What is it?’
The Queen pointed at the mirror. The menagerie of children floated past. But never her own face, never her own!
‘Girl! Make it stop!’
The servant sat back on her heels, called out: ‘Mirror. End query.’
The screen faltered, the faces disappeared. The Queen slowly straightened.
‘Beauty,’ she said crisply, ‘is in the eye of the beholder. And I behold my face, and I say I am beautiful. I do not need to ask any mirror anything.’
The girl returned to her scrubbing. ‘That’s what my Ma says. She says beauty isn’t that special. It’s what you do that counts.’
The Queen sniffed and returned to her dresser. ‘When you’ve finished clearing up,’ she said, ‘go and wash.’
The girl wrung her perfume-scented cloth into the bucket, picked up her brush and backed from the room. ‘That’s why she stayed with them. She’s never coming home. She’s no interest in your stupid kingdom. And we’re good at hiding. So stop trying to find us.’
The Queen spun on her chair, stared at the servant girl, creeping backward from the room with her mop and brush and bucket. She did look familiar; black hair, creamy skin. ‘Wait!’ she called. ‘Wait!’
But the girl had gone. Out into the corridor, merging with the other waiting staff. Hundreds of them, scurrying about like mice. Identical in their grey coveralls, hiding their faces. The Queen would never find her.
The mirror! The mirror could tell her.
‘Mirror, mirror,’ she said. ‘Show me…’
She stopped. She would never succeed. Curse the dwarves and their wretched technology! Only Snow White had ever managed to work with them.
I first visited Berlin in 1992. The Berlin Wall had come down in 1989, but large parts of it still remained. In ’92, there were plenty of other reminders of the Communist regime. (Side note: If you ever want to see an argument against Communism, visit a country just emerging from its grip.)
Back then, West Berlin felt cosmopolitan but soulless and East Berlin was drab and bleak. The city was full of road works, because the tram tracks in the East didn’t match those in the West. The apartment buildings and roads of East Berlin were in a sad state of disrepair and the place was full of soviet-style cars pouring exhaust fumes into the narrow streets.
Fast forward to 2017, when we returned.
It’s hard to understate the changes over those 25 years. Berlin is now a vibrant metropolis. It’s full of fascinating alleys and side streets, amazing restaurants, art galleries and best of all, the old East Berlin. The apartments that survived the War have been restored, and the place is clean and bright and exciting. And safe!
To my mind, every creative should visit Berlin once in his/her life. This is why:
- The Wall. Seeing the remains of the Berlin Wall and its profoundly tangible consequence on memory and culture is a stark reminder of why artificial barriers always fail. Sectioning one element of a community from another weakens the entire community – but we never learn, do we? Every generation, another leader comes along and says “these people/this religion/this political system is bad, and we must separate ourselves from it, lest it overwhelm us”. Yet, the truth is, of course, that humans are more resilient than we realise and mixing of ideas and communities strengthens us all. But still, we delude ourselves that ideas can be quarantined.
- Stumbling Stones (Stolperstein). The stolpersteine are cobblestone-sized plaques set into the sidewalks outside apartments in Berlin. They bear the name and life dates of victims of Nazi persecution. You can find them outside Berlin, too: many German cities have them, as do cities in the Netherlands, Austria and Italy. But Berlin seemed to have the most, especially in the old East Berlin, where many Jewish families lived. Its sad (and disconcerting) to daily step over those who once lived in the same building as you. Many people leave flowers and memorials. Why is this a good thing? Because its hard to forget the past once it wears a human face. And what is more human than a name?
- The gardens and parks. Berliners appreciate their public spaces. That’s because many were almost destroyed in the War; much of the urban landscape of Berlin is relatively recent. There’s nothing like nearly losing something to make you realise its importance. The Wall has left its mark, too – and the corridor marked by the Wall became a haven for wildlife. Some parts of Berlin are greener and more beautiful as a consequence of the Wall.
- Culture – according to Time Out, you can’t fling a currywurst without hitting an art gallery in Berlin. From traditional to contemporary to street art, Berlin is full of the galleries and sculpture. Plus, the architecture is amazing: from Prussian-establishment to Sovietstyle, the cityscape is extraordinarily diverse.
- What price art? Berlin is known for its reflective, regretful installations. The most moving is Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, a 19,000 sq metre site of grey concrete coffin-shaped stelae. It’s eerily reminiscent of a cemetery, as it slopes downward, so the stelae grow deeper and the space grows darker as you move through. However, for me the most thought-provoking place was the Kunsthaus Dahlem, former atelier of popular Third Reich sculptor, Arno Breker. This small-but-monumental space was commissioned by the Fuhrer, for Breker. After WW2, Breker maintained he had never been a supporter of the Nazis, merely an acceptor of their patronage. Now, looking back I wonder: was Breker’s art good, or bad?
Berlin’s vibe of restoration, regret and rebirth is a heady mix. It’s perfect for a writer, because in every tragedy there’s a possibility of redemption, and in every tragedy there’s a tale to be told. If you get a chance, do visit.
To end this rather reflective blog post, here’s a poem. I wrote it after watching a girl, dressed all in pink (including her hair), stepped into my subway car.
Princess in Pink – Berlin, 2017
A princess in pink rides the subway
Traveling the rails alone
Her hair and her nails and her clothes are all pink
And she carries a silver iPhone.
Her cheeks glitter softly, like star-dust.
She wears a silver-gilt crown
A violin case over one shoulder
A heart-stopping hint of a frown.
Above, the city is freezing
But down in the tunnels below
Where the princess is riding the subways
There’s never a hint of the snow.
She’s been inside these tunnels forever,
Just her and her silver gilt crown
She was here when the world was younger
Before tracks of iron were down.
If ever you meet the pink princess
Don’t stare. Never ask her to play –
With one touch of her bow to the violin’s strings
That music will draw you away.
For she plays of a time long-forgotten
When stars could be seen in the sky
When the rivers and ocean were clean, clear and blue
Before buildings and people and lies.
Sometimes she sings to her music
In a voice made of starlight and pearls
And her words, inexplicably haunting,
Set heart, mind and soul in a whirl.
When the song ends the princess has vanished
Leaving you trapped on the train
But her memory stays with you forever –
Along with a silver iPhone.
Love American Gods? Here’s 6 Books (plus TV) To Try
American Gods by Neil Gaiman, was published in 2001, and quickly achieved cult status, winning the Hugo, Nebula, Locus Award and Bram Stoker Awards. For a fantasy writer, this is like winning the Grand Slam – actually, it’s harder!
American Gods was so popular that a remake was published in 2011 in an edition called ‘the author’s preferred text edition’. Kind of like a director’s cut version, perhaps?
There have also been audiobook editions, collector’s editions and most recently a TV production. So American Gods is one of those rarities among novels: it’s both good and popular!
Yet despite American Gods’ incredible pedigree, I only managed to read it last year. I couldn’t put it down, and so, to my husband’s irritation, I insisted on taking a book the size of a brick on holiday.
For those of you who haven’t read American Gods (and please, do read it), here’s a brief summary:
Summary of American Gods
Shadow, a small-time criminal, has just reached the end of his prison sentence. He’s about to be released when his wife, Laura, whom he loves dearly, is killed in a car crash, and his world collapses. There follows a job offer from the enigmatic Mr. Wednesday, an encounter with Mad Sweeney, and the semi-resurrection of Laura. Oh, and a cascade of gods, both ancient and modern: Egyptian, Russian, Norse, media, celebrity and technology.
American Gods is a bleakly humorous tale, sliding between fantasy, horror and social commentary, and the writing is Gaiman at his best; the tone changes effortlessly from dark to light and is both erudite and (when necessary) foolish. Gaiman is truly a master of the craft.
And when I reached the end, and let out a great sigh of regret, for reaching the end of a book you truly love is both satisfying and sad, I thought: you know, there’s something about this story that is terribly familiar.
And then I read the afterword.
So here’s 5 books that I’m almost positive Gaiman was influenced by when writing his masterpiece, and if he wasn’t, he should have been.
The Eight Days of Luke – by Diana Wynne Jones
In the afterword to American Gods, Gaiman reveals that Wynne Jones helped him with a plot issue. The Eight Days of Luke is a tale of Loki, the mischief-maker Norse god. Gaiman himself credits this as having an influence ‘like first cousins or something.’ However, I think there’s another of Wynne Jones’ books that’s also made its way into American Gods …
The Homeward Bounders – by Diana Wynne Jones
This is possibly the bleakest of Wynne Jones books, and its tone is similar to American Gods, in that although the ending is satisfying, it’s not happy. It’s happy-ish. The Homeward Bounders is the story of Jamie, an inquisitive London urchin who accidentally spies on Them, demonic creatures that war-game with worlds. Them throw him out onto the bounds, where, like the Wandering Jew and the Flying Dutchman, he’s doomed to travel ever onwards. Unless he can find Home, where he can return to play. Wandering the boundaries of the worlds, Jamie meets other bounders, and together, they learn they may be able to change the rules of play. Although this is a book for kids aged 9+, it’s a great read even for adults, and if you’re wanting to introduce your own kids to fantasy, The Homeward Bounders is a great place to start.
The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul – by Douglas Adams
This is the second in the Dirk Gently series. Written by the creator of the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, the story follows the eccentric Dirk Gently, a holistic detective who believes that everything is interconnected – even a potato, a scythe-wielding monster, an explosion at Heathrow Airport, the contents of his fridge and Thor, God of Thunder. Unhappily for Gently, it turns out he’s absolutely right. This is a funny, funny read and like American Gods, considers what happens to gods when they have no more followers.
Small Gods – by Terry Pratchett
Pratchett and Gaiman collaborated to write the fantastic Good Omens, and Gaiman acknowledges Pratchett’s help out of a plot hole in American Gods, so I think it’s quite likely Small Gods (first published in 1992) made a contribution to American Gods. Plus, of course, there’s the titles! In Small Gods, the Great God Om unexpectedly manifests as a tortoise, and being a tortoise, has no godly powers. Worse still, only one boy, Brutha, can hear his voice, and Brutha does not believe he can be Om. Like many discworld adventures, Small Gods deals lightly with big topics: religion, freedom of belief and religious institutions.
Midnight’s Children – by Salman Rushdie
This stunning novel won the Booker Prize in 1981, and really marked the beginning of Rushdie’s pre-fatwa career. To be honest, inserting this novel into this list is a long stretch. However, I wanted to mention Rushdie because apart from Gaiman, I’ve not read any other writer with such facility for language. Rushdie is able to transform from starkly energetic horror to contemplative calm, and although his stories are bleak, they are cathartic. Unlike Gaiman, Rushdie isn’t seen as a fantasy writer, but Midnight’s Children is definitely a fantastical tale. (Personally, I don’t find Midnight’s Children as engaging as American Gods, but it’s still a worthwhile read.)
In Midnight’s Children, Saleem, a telepathic with an extraordinarily large nose, is born at midnight on the day of India’s independence with unique gifts, and believes he has unique responsibilities to the new-born state.
Full disclosure: I’ve not read this graphic novel series, but I’m really keen to. I’ll withhold my comments until that time, but just to note that Wikipedia indicates that many side characters in American Gods, such as Bast, were first born in The Sandman.
Post Script: Television Shows
If you’re keen on stories about Norse Gods living in modern times, try The Almighty Johnsons. In The Almighty Johnsons, the Norse pantheon have relocated to New Zealand, but don’t have their full powers, so Axl, a student (and also a reincarnation of Odin), needs to find his mate, Frigg. But unfortunately, Frigg doesn’t want to be found.
This TV show was written after American Gods, so probably owes something to Gaiman, but the tone is quite different; The Almighty Johnsons contains a whole lot more sex, and is a great deal funnier. It’s less fantastical in tone, too, but has been picked up by Syfy for release in the US.