After living in the U.S. with his American wife for 9 years, British fantasy writer Neil Gaiman found himself wanting to write about, as he put it: “this strange, huge place where I now found myself living that I knew I didn’t understand.” He only had a vague idea of the story he wanted to write when he pitched it to his agent, who replied with a concept book cover. Gaiman found it both exhilarating and intimidating to have the cover of a book that he hadn’t written yet. He spent the next two years gathering the story together piece by piece as he toured the country by car and train. Most of the places he visited, from back road Jacksonville to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, made it into the book not just as a setting but as an integral part of the story itself.
Taciturn and soft-spoken Shadow has just been released from prison and is eager to get back to his wife and put the whole terrible jailbird experience behind him. But when tragedy strikes, Shadow feels he has little left to live for. That’s when a man who calls himself Mr Wednesday offers Shadow a job, and a road trip of mythic proportions begins.
This is a “coming to America” story for gods. It seems that when people emigrated from their motherlands to America, they brought their gods with them. These gods have eked out a meager existence in the New World, working regular jobs and trying not to be forgotten, as being forgotten means death. But new gods, gods born in America by Americans, have declared war. As the storm closes in, Shadow and Mr Wednesday travel all over the country to gather allies and strike bargains. But Shadow is dubious that the actions of one man can have any effect on a war between gods.
I’m not sure how profound this book is on the subject of America; I was more intrigued by the concept of ancient gods being transplanted by the thoughts and actions of the humans who believe in them. But whether you are interested in world mythology or Americana or just like a really good urban fantasy, you will get more than you bargained for when you sit down with this excellent book.