In a land that is the melting pot of the world, where people have come with the customs, stories and gods from the old countries, a god has got to make a living the best way they know how. That is the premise for American gods by Neil Gaiman. The characters from mythology, folk legends and the divinities of nations across time and space come to a land that does not know or need them and they find themselves forgotten, and unworshipped.
Shadow, our hero, stumbles into this underworld (a favourite theme of Gaiman’s) of gods and mythological characters when finally takes the job as Mr Wednesday’s right hand man. Mr Wednesday, or Odin, is a con man who’s working towards the biggest con ever perpetrated, a war to end all wars, between the old gods and the modern icons of Media and Technology. He lives a half-life befitting his name doing what Mr Wednesday tells him to do regardless of how stupid or dangerous it seems. To be fair, the story starts with him heading home after a stint in jail to find that his wife is dead, found in a car accident with her lover. Shadow’s life now turned upside-down is further turned inside-out by Mr Wednesday and a succession of has-been gods.
Shadow is not a powerless pawn in all of this. Early on as part of a con to get money, Mr Wednesday uses Shadows previous unknown skills to create a snow storm. When Shadow finally takes responsibility for his own life he actively uses these powers for good, at least as he sees it. Directionless he is weak and able to be used, once he has a reason to live he is easily the most powerful character in the book.
In trying to find the words to describe this book I looked to Good Reads reviews and found this book polarizes people. Some of us get the detailed simplicity, the gentle grandeur of this book and some think it’s boring or has no point. It is a quiet book for the most part, but this book has many points to make about truly living, the power of humans versus the power of the gods we worship, big messages about American culture and how they are always trying to redefine themselves into something new and better.
Character is dominate. Shadow’s compliance may annoy you but his growth throughout the story is impressive. He’s a gentle character ,which belies his size and reputation, and I grew to be concerned for him. Wednesday is charming, mysterious and ruthless. It’s hard to work out what his plans will achieve until Shadow reveals it all. The other gods are well realised as once powerful and revered but now broken and flawed characters.