By Neil Gaiman
2001. Mass-market paperback. 592pp. HarperCollins.
Shadow Moon spent three years behind bars, dreaming of the day he would be released and able to go home to his wife, Laura. Days before his release, Shadow gets news that’s even worse than his original sentencing: Laura and his best friend were killed in a car accident. On the flight home, Shadow meets a charismatic man, Mr. Wednesday, who offers him a job. At first, Shadow is suspicious when Wednesday knows a lot more about him than he should, but figures he’s got nothing to lose and decides to take the offer.
The new job takes Shadow down some weird twists and turns, including visits from his wife and Gods old and new. As he navigates this weird world he didn’t know existed, Shadow must figure out what it is he wants from life now that his old dream has died. It turns out America has more to it than meets the eye, including an impending battle where both sides are trying to win him over.
With new adaptations of American Gods coming out, including a comic series by Dark Horse and the television show by Starz, I wanted to finally read this book my friends had been talking about for a while. I was also waiting for Wynonna Earp, also rooted in American mythology but in the Old West rather than Gods, to come out with a second season and American Gods seemed like a good interlude.
At first, I was hesitant to start this book because and I read Stardust, also by Neil Gaiman, when I was in high school and ended up liking the movie a lot better than I did the book. However, what I had seen online of the series was looking very good and well-made so this time I wanted to give the book a chance first. As of this writing, I still haven’t started the new television series.
I really enjoyed the characters and the settings, particularly while Shadow was adventuring across the United States. My family has spent many summers on road trips, so the locations felt familiar, even if they weren’t really based on anywhere I had actually been. There were also twists that I should have seen coming, but I was so caught up in the turns of the story I completely missed them. Shadow is a very good main character, well-thought out and easy to identify with. He’s just along for the ride, a lot like the reader, but then gets his own agency as the story continues.
I had trouble during the book connecting with Laura’s character, but part of that may be that Shadow himself has trouble connecting to her in their new life and the reader can feel that, even if it’s never explicitly mentioned. I wanted a more detailed ending of Shadow’s life after the events of the novel play out, but semi-vague endings leave plenty of room for reader interpretation of the events that follow the novel.
The main thing I enjoyed while reading, however, was the interweaving and acknowledgement of the United States’ history as a place for immigrants. Each old God introduced made perfect sense to me, since we brought people over here on boats with their beliefs, it made sense that their Gods would surely follow. It was a similar theological exploration of Gods adapting to new worlds as was in the Percy Jackson series by Rick Riordan.
If you’re a fan of Americana mythology and things that require you to be at least a little superstitious to believe, I highly recommend this book. It falls into one of my categories with Wynonna Earp (the show, not the comic) as an exploration of American mythology and people who have to interact with it.