Good Omens: The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch is a 1990 comic fantasy novel by Terry Pratchett & Neil Gaiman, working together early in their careers, long before they became as celebrated as they are now. The apocalypse is upon the world, and according to The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch (recorded in 1655), the world will end on a Saturday. Next Saturday. This doesn’t sit well with Aziraphale and Crowley, an angel and demon respectively, who have lived among humanity for millennia and have really come to enjoy the lifestyle. So, they’ve decided to cancel Armageddon by killing the Antichrist. Problem is, they’ve somehow misplaced him. As they scramble to locate him, armies amass, the four Bikers of the Apocalypse are riding out together, and a rather nice young lad is learning he has the power to remake the entire world as he sees fit.
A hitch I ran into when starting this novel was the fact that I’d watched the miniseries adaptation back in 2019, which it turns out is phenomenally faithful to the source material. It expanded upon the book by adding more scenes, but changed very little of the plot, as far as I can recall. This means that the novel felt a lot more like a reread than I was expecting it to, and I’m not sure how to feel about that. It was well-written and entertaining, but offered few surprises. If you yourself are split between which you want to experience first, I’d say start with the book. Let your imagination run wild with the text first, then see how Gaiman, as showrunner, adapted it to the screen.
Having read a great many books by each author already, I was surprised to find that the text read a lot more like a Pratchett novel than it did one of Gaiman’s. While the influence of both can be felt throughout the book, its sense of humour is very Pratchettian, with ideas meticulously well thought out, yet utterly hysterical. An example that sticks out most to me are Agnes’s predictions, which are so accurate and cryptic (because she couldn’t quite understand the future) that they’re only seen to be correct after the event has already happened. The comedic tone never faltered, a credit to both authors. I was more or less continuously amused during each reading session, even laughing out loud more than a few times. Though I feel some markedly English cultural references probably went over my head, these were in passing and did not disrupt the experience.
The plot itself is multi-faceted, following a number of different characters who all converge at the end. Some of these subplots I found more compelling than others, as some characters I simply liked more. With some hitches, however, each contributed well to the story overall. The linchpin of the whole plot, the story of Adam Young (the Antichrist) and his friends was an enjoyable, character-driven affair that captured the voices of children really well, especially their daft curiosity and sense of wonder. They had a childlike wisdom to them, but they never felt like they had too firm a grasp on more advanced ideas, or even common sense at times. It struck a really great balance, pitting them against forces greater than any mortal, yet preserving the sense that these are still just kids.
The story of Anathema Device and Witchfinder Private Pulsifer, however, who are trying to uncover the source of the apocalypse, I found a little underwhelming for how much focus they’re given. Though well-defined and not without their charms, contributing to exposition and worldbuilding, at the end of it all they didn’t feel as crucial as I think they ought to have. Anathema ensures Pulsifer is at a certain place and time to help avert catastrophe, but I keep having a nagging feeling that he didn’t really need to be there. The story wouldn’t quite work without them, but they also felt a bit redundant, which vexes me.
The four horsemen, or bikers, of the apocalypse were given a lot more attention than I recall from the miniseries, which added a nice villainous flair to the story. With the end of the world on the horizon, the four of them gather together and prepare to wreak havoc, whether Adam is willing to lead them or not. The way each of them had been inhabiting the world, occupying time and fulfilling their respective niches could be especially disturbing, establishing the stakes through a portents of things to come.
Aziraphale and Crowley were, unsurprisingly, a favourite among the cast of characters. I love how the two most powerful characters in the story find themselves suffering through a comedy of errors, beyond their initial losing track of the Antichrist. A web of farcical circumstances keeps them from interfering competently, which was surprisingly intricate in retrospect. There’s just something so wholesome at the heart of the pair too, each betraying their own nature because they feel the world is worth more than a war between Heaven and Hell, no matter what scripture says. There’s a selfish angle to it, sure, but this brought out their humanity all the more.
The theme that good or evil is never fully set in stone, that lines drawn in the sand can always be moved or brushed away, is woven between nearly all of the characters, whether angels and demons, Witchfinders and Witches, or fussy neighbors and harmless delinquents. While at times the world is presented very cynically, especially from Crowley’s perspective, his job being to bring out the worst in humanity, there’s an underpinning of hope too. The backdrop of a Christian apocalypse was perfect for this, as much of the dogma as we understand it deals so strongly in absolutes (Heaven good, Hell bad). It doesn’t try to refute or rebel against the Creator itself, however, but challenges those who would deign to insist that they know what is, ultimately, unknowable. Maybe those who side with the angels don’t always have your best interest at heart, and maybe what’s meant to be the greatest incarnation of evil the world has ever seen just needs to see good in the world and get the chance to choose.
Good Omens is a fantastic book from two fantastic authors, no question. I only wish I had read the book first, as it felt too much like I was retreading a story I already knew. The subplots around some of the characters felt a little superfluous to me, making me wish focus had been redirected elsewhere, but that’s ultimately a personal nitpick. If you only read one book in your life by these authors, you wouldn’t be wrong picking this one. It has great characters, a devilish sense of humour, and a lot of heart.
My Rating: 4.5 out of 5