The story is simple, Shadow is leaving prison after doing three years time due to a crime that wasn’t made clear until very far in the book. He learns, however, that his wife died in a car accident just as he is leaving. Then when he was on his flight back home, he meets Mr. Wednesday, who is intent on recruiting him for a job. His name, of course, isn’t Wednesday. Shadow isn’t keen on it but Wednesday is persistent and eventually Shadow relents. What follows is a kind of weird, but interesting adventure. The “weird” factor is just its fantastical elements, though.
Wednesday ends up hiring Shadow as an errand boy as Wednesday goes all around the country to recruit other gods that made it to America. The gods are not your typically popular gods–I had trouble placing most of them but that didn’t take away from the story. But what Wednesday tries to do isn’t easy. He explains to Shadow that gods are not inclined to work together. They prefer to be individually worshiped rather than join a team. But this is America, and the gods are losing power since no one worships them anymore. America has new gods, they are the gods of technology, media, even automobile. What Wednesday wants is to gather the old gods together for a war against the new gods taking power.
The setup of old vs. new gods is great, and Gaiman could have taken this premise anywhere. One of the modes of thinking explored here is that the new gods, while powerful now, may be replaced in the future by newer gods. So I thought that when the battle comes, I could predict who would win it. But Gaiman didn’t go that way. He chose a different route, which is a nice twist, but still something you could figure out at some point at the latter end of the book.
But I did like the concept that since the gods are weak in comparison to what they used to be, they had to adapt to the new reality based on their original powers or what they are known for. For example, the gods Anubis and Thoth were in there. They are Egyptian gods of death and their appearances seem authentic enough that if they were truly real, I would not hesitate to say that they are exactly what I would imagine them.
The book is rife with these reimaginings and that was more than half the fun of the book. The story itself is good, but it was slow going. The character Shadow was lacking. He felt like a placeholder character, really deficient in the personality department, but the other supporting characters were good so that made up for it. And the writing is solid.
While I’m not crazy about this book, I would still recommend it. It’s an interesting concept, and the god population piques the curiosity.