This is one of my favourite books of all time having read it on a bus trip across Canada. Not only did it detract from the hundreds of miles of corn fields, it also helped me get hooked on Neil Gaiman’s fiction. Gaiman has an army of fierce fans and after reading this, it was not difficult to see why. This is perhaps Gaiman’s defining moment in novel writing and most likely the book for which he will most be remembered.
Shadow Moon is released from prison a few weeks early after his wife dies in a car accident. Feeling his world has come tumbling down when he was looking forward to a reunion, he needs a new direction in life. Yet on the plane trip home he finds himself seated next to a mysterious man called Mister Wednesday. Mister Wednesday offers Shadow a job as a kind of bodyguard – no questions asked. Together they travel the USA meeting all kinds of strange people in an attempt to bring them together for a purpose that Shadow is not particularly clear about. There is friction because Shadow doesn’t understand; Mister Wednesday for his part, doesn’t really want Shadow to understand… yet. When he does, it will change how he sees the world and his own humanity.
It is gradually revealed that these are the gods of the old world (can you figure out who Mr. Wednesday is?), from mythology are locked in a battle with new gods. It’s not particularly subtle but it is effective. The new gods have likes like Mister Internet and Mrs Media. This is metaphor heavy but not pretentious and what results is an amazing commentary on modern life’s eternal struggle of progress vs tradition. We know who the bad guys are – or we think we do – but what ultimately results is an ideological war in which neither are right and neither are wrong, where both have their merits and drawbacks. It’s a war that nobody will ever win and that is one of the messages of this book.
It isn’t preachy, nor is Gaiman trying to sway us in any particular direction. Rather, Gaiman is simply observing the eternal struggle and presenting us with how both are important aspects of humanity. Like any good writer, Gaiman is intent on telling us a story, and what a story he has in store for us!
At the end of my Canadian journey, American Gods left me with a warm and fuzzy glow despite everything else. It will stay with me for many years, of that I’m sure. It’s certainly stayed with the audience. I read this in 2002 and now Gaiman is making preparations for a 10th anniversary tour.
2017 update: There is now an Amazon Video TV adaptation featuring Ricky Whittle as Shadow Moon and Ian McShane as Mister Wednesday.
* 2002 Hugo
* 2002 Neblua
* 2002 Locus
* 2002 SFX Reader awards (UK’s premier SciFi magazine)
* 2002 Bram Stoker award
* 2004 Geffen Award
and a multitude of other nominations!
This is a sold and flawless 5/5. I’ve read it twice now (2017) and no doubt I will read it a third, fourth or more times than that once I’ve finished watching the TV series.