“Shadow had done three years in prison.  He was big enough and looked don’t-f***-with-me enough that his biggest problem was killing time.  So he kept himself in shape, and taught himself coin tricks, and thought a lot about how much he loved his wife.  The best thing – in Shadow’s opinion, perhaps the only good thing – about being in prison was a feeling of relief.  The feeling that he’d plunged as low as he could plunge and he’d hit bottom.  He didn’t worry that the man was going to get him, because the man had got him.  He was no longer scared of what tomorrow might bring, because yesterday had brought it.”

Shadow has just been released from prison early because his wife has died.  In the same night he finds this out, he is given a job offer by a strange man known only as Wednesday, to be a bodyguard and courier.  With no other options, Shadow accepts Wednesday’s offer and they set off around the United State recruiting Wednesday’s friends.  Though he doesn’t try to gain attention or trouble, Shadow finds that the more time he spends with Wednesday the more he has never understood about the world around him and about himself.  Wednesday seems to believe there is a battle coming between the new gods of America and the old gods and goddesses who were brought overseas by the immigrants who worshipped them.  Before he realizes it, Shadow has become a pivotal figure in a battle for the minds and passions of humanity and will be forced to recognize his true potential as a human.

My husband recommended this book to me and I put off reading it for years because I knew it was going to be good and I wanted to save it for a particularly bad dry spell in good reading.  I was right to wait.  I devoured this book in a few days – not something out of the ordinary for me when I find something I like.  I enjoy Neil Gaiman’s books because they are so unnatural.  They don’t follow the expected plot course, and while they do present a lot of foreshadowing which is easy to read and many MANY archetypes (esp in this book) I still find myself surprised at twists in the endings and satisfied when I turn the final page.  If there’s anything to complain about with Gaiman’s books is that they aren’t longer.  I’m a character-driven reader, so I always want to know more about a great character’s life.

You could find a lot of reviews about this book which concern themselves with the great coverage of all the world’s deities, and the good insight on how we’re moving into a new era of worship and passions, or even on the idea of America and her legends as a whole – so I’m not going to go into any of that.  I’ll just talk about Shadow.  I loved Shadow – loved that he was quiet and intelligent, that he could handle himself but didn’t try to control a situation.  I appreciated that he was quick to believe in something no matter how ridiculous it appeared.  He wasn’t cruel, but he was street smart; he didn’t toot his own horn, nor did he let people walk all over him.  In fact, I think he is the most realized and human character I’ve ever come across.  He’s the sort of character I wish that I knew – not necessarily as my best friend, but someone whose number I had in my address book just in case I needed someone I could count on.

“American Gods” was written by Neil Gaiman and published in 2001.