I finished reading American Gods by Neil Gaiman a couple weeks ago, and I’m posting this delayed review because I needed time to process!
Let me back up, and, oh yeah, SPOILER WARNING!
American Gods follows the story of Shadow, a convict who was just released from prison only to discover his wife died in a car accident while cheating on him with his friend. As if that wasn’t enough to handle, a certain ancient god inserts himself into Shadow’s life and brings him along for an adventure of epic weirdness.
This god, Odin from Norse mythology going by the alias Wednesday, brings Shadow to meet other gods and other mythological beings as he tries to rally forces against the new gods: gods of technology and pop culture, etc. He says a war is coming, and the old gods need to fight to survive.
A whole lot of trippy weirdness ensues, including but definitely not limited to the reanimation of Shadow’s wife via magical sun-coin.
Near the climax of the story, Wednesday is killed by the new gods, and Shadow agrees to hold his vigil. In this instance, holding vigil means being tied to a tree while naked for days and days. Shadow, being human (kind of, more on that in just a moment), dies. He travels the underworld/afterlife, and at one point chooses to walk a path that reveals truths about his life. One of these truths: Wednesday is his father. Shadow is a demi-god.
Some more weirdness ensues and Shadow is brought back to life by the goddess Easter. The war has started, Wednesday’s death spurring the old gods into action, and Shadow goes to play his part.
Shadow pieces together that Wednesday’s intentions were not very noble. He and fellow Norse god Loki (known to Shadow as his old prison buddy Low Key – come on, Shadow!) feed on wars fought in his name and chaos, respectively. They set the entire war into motion so that they could become stronger and more powerful, at the expense of the lives of all the other gods, old and new alike.
Shadow, being a resurrected demi-god and all, alerts the other gods to this plan and effectively stops the war. Odin and Loki’s plan is foiled, and they die.
That is an extremely over-simplified breakdown of the events of this novel! It’s definitely a trip, and if you can keep up with all of the “real” world vs spirit world/otherworld/underworld/etc stuff, it’s a great story. It’s also great if you’re a mythology nerd. Some gods’ identities are spelled out for the reader, but some are not. If you’re a mythology nerd, it’s fun to pick up on which god is which.
One of the main themes of the novel is, of course, the battle between traditions and the old world vs technology and the way of the future. The moral of the story, it seems to me, is that it doesn’t have to be a battle. The old and the new can peacefully coexist.
Overall I really enjoyed the novel, and am beyond excited that it’s going to be a TV series! If you haven’t seen it yet, here’s the trailer for that: