American Gods—An Unusual Journey

American Gods by Neil Gaiman book cover
American Gods by Neil Gaiman

American Gods, by Neil Gaiman, follows Shadow after he gets out of jail and comes to work for someone who calls himself Wednesday as he tries to rally the old gods for a war against the new.

1—The Gods

We meet gods from many pantheons during the course of Shadow’s journey with Wednesday. Wednesday himself is Odin, from the old Norse pantheon. There’s Mr. Nancy, Anansi, from Africa. And Kali from India. Some of my favorite are Mr Ibis and Mr Jaquel—Thoth and Anubis—and Bast and Horus from Egypt. Easter herself makes an appearance. Czernobog and the Zoryas. And then of course there’s the hall of forgotten gods that Shadow dreams about.

Then there’s the new gods—Media and tech, cars and others unnamed.

It seems to me the gods always take something. Sacrifice is in their nature. But then it also seems humans have taken from them. Made them with belief and then forgotten them. It’s a complicated relationship.

2—The Other Stories

Woven throughout American Gods are stories other than Shadow’s. Stories of the people who came to America and the gods they brought with them. There’s a pair of twins sold into slavery who bring Elegba with them. There’s a tribe of people who are the first to cross the land bridge during an ice age. There’s a Middle Eastern businessman in modern New York who meets and ifrit in a taxi cab. All these stories, most of them sad, add a richness to the book and some of them tie back in later to the main story.

3—Not Talking About the Plot

There’s no way I can talk about the plot without massively spoiling it. For much of the book Shadow is in the dark about what’s happening. Wednesday doesn’t pay him to ask questions. Shadow ends up running from agents who may or may not be government. There’s Wednesday’s master plan. There’s the question of why Shadow is important at all. And of course there’s Shadow’s dead wife Laura.

Conclusion

I don’t know how I feel about American Gods. It was a good book, and I enjoyed reading it, but I’m not sure what emotion I come away with at the end. I’d still recommend it.

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