If you haven’t seen Good Omens, it’s a funny and refreshing take on heaven, hell, and the apocalypse, starring David Tennant as an emotionally conflicted demon.
Objectively speaking, Good Omens is an Amazon Prime original miniseries produced by Neil Gaiman and based on the 1990 book he co-authored with Terry Pratchett. If you didn’t know any of this, go watch the series now, otherwise I’m just going to spoil it for you. However, if you have seen it and you’re wondering if it’s worth buying the book, keep reading.
If you liked the quirky Good Omens characters, you’re in luck, because you’re going to meet all of them again in the book. All of the characters—Anathema, Newt, Adam and the Them, Shadwell, Madame Tracy, and the others—are the same, but they’re a lot more developed. The only character that really changes a lot is Crowley, and I’m pretty sure that’s because part of David Tennant’s contract is that any character he plays must be emotionally unstable. Unlike in the miniseries, Aziraphale and Crowley are not the main characters and are instead just part of a large rotating cast. While they are the most consistent characters, the novel isn’t about them in the same way the TV series is. So don’t read the book for more Aziraphale and Crowley content, because you’ve already got everything you’re going to get.
Similarly, if you enjoyed the irreverent, lighthearted tone of the series, you’ll be pleased to hear that the book has the same feel, only there’s a lot more space for that tone to be developed into some really amusing moments.
This does, however, come at a price; a lot of the novel’s jokes are designed for people who have lived in Britain, or are familiar with British pop culture—mostly digs at their motorways or the way they see foreigners. While some of these are explained, others leave you feeling like it’d be funnier if you knew what was going on. In saying that, there are plenty of jokes that are worth the wait, with some of the series’ most iconic lines taken right from the book, like “most books on witchcraft were written by men” and “a whaling research ship was currently researching the question: how many whales can you catch in one week?”
Cover Artwork for ‘Good Omens’ Book
The major difference between the series and the book comes from being published thirty years apart. For those of you who, like me, wasn’t even a concept in 1990, Pretty Woman was the height of romance movies, the Eurozone did not yet exist, and America was a decade away from 9/11 and invading the Middle East.
For the book, the result of this time difference is both good and bad. On one hand, many more scenes take place in other countries—Australia even gets a shout out—however, each one reads like a tourist handbook in a way that is both nostalgic and annoying. Additionally, the TV adaption contains diversity that couldn’t be expected from a nineties novel. For example, the 2019 version of Pollution is nonbinary (please look at Neil Gaiman’s twitter). However, the novel is a lot freer to comment on things like Anathema preparing to be abducted, and Aziraphale being called quite a lot of slurs. The nineties was a time before extreme online backlash, and thus the authors weren’t afraid to wander into controversial territory and then wander back out—without giving their readers any concrete answers.
I always think that a book is worth reading, but to be honest, if you’ve already seen the TV series, you’re going to have to be patient with the novel. If the things you enjoyed most about the miniseries were explosions, the Crowley and Aziraphale dynamic, and a strong, fast-paced plot, I don’t think you’re going to love the book. If, however, you liked the quirky characters, the aggressive, humourous environmentalism, and you want to know what was going on in the heads of the story’s creators, then I would recommend giving it a go. Gaiman was a great writer in the nineties, and he’s a great showrunner now.