by Neil Gaiman
Original Publication Date: 2001
Length: 656 pages
Publisher: Headline Review
Obtained Via: Bought
#1 in series
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After three years in prison, Shadow has done his time. But as the days, then the hours, then the minutes, then the seconds until his release tick away, he can feel a storm building. Two days before he gets out, his wife Laura dies in a mysterious car crash, in apparently adulterous circumstances. Dazed, Shadow travels home, only to encounter the bizarre Mr. Wednesday claiming to be a refugee from a distant war, a former god and the king of America. Together they embark on a very strange journey across the States, along the way solving the murders which have occurred every winter in one small American town. But they are being pursued by someone with whom Shadow must make his peace… Disturbing, gripping and profoundly strange, Neil Gaiman’s epic new novel sees him on the road to finding the soul of America.
On the surface, this book is about old gods and new gods fighting, the supernatural, and the themes of life and death. Really, it deals more with belief and what it means to be alive than it does with gods. It’s a lot less action pack then I think a lot of people will like. If you go into this book expecting some epic war showdown between the “old gods”, like Odin and Kali from various mythologies, and the “new gods” like media, computers, technology, you will be disappointed. For this reason, I can see many fantasy and science fiction fans putting this book down and being unhappy with the conclusion. However, I loved this book.
For a long time I wasn’t even sure I was enjoying this book. I LOVED the first fifty pages, then began to grow a little restless, but by the middle of the book, I was sucked in again. I read most of this book in an eye surgical center waiting room as my dad had an appointment, and by the time I was to page 300, I was oblivious to the world around me. Despite this book being roughly 600 pages, it’s tightly crafted. Even if you don’t enjoy the story, I think most people can appreciate Gaiman’s writing style. In a lot of ways, it reminds me of John Irving’s A Prayer for Owen Meany, where there’s all sort of events going on and you’re entertained and know it all has a point, but can’t figure out exactly what until the end. There is really not an unnecessary scene in this book, which makes for a fairly quick-moving story, despite the page length.
Shadow, our protagonist, isn’t fully developed as a character for a long time, which annoyed me at first. However, the further you read, the more you come to understand that Shadow isn’t really the focus of this book. The gods, and beliefs, are. We see the world mainly through Shadow’s eyes. Shadow is confused, which makes us readers feel it’s all right to be slightly confused as well. Shadow does grow over time, and by the end, I felt he was a fully fleshed-out character. By the last page of this novel, Shadow has gone from being a slightly unwilling observer into the world of gods and belief to being an active character. When you finish, you get the impression that Shadow ended up right where he needed to be.
I will warn that I think I would have enjoyed this book even more if I had more knowledge of different gods in various lore. I knew a little bit about gods like Loki, Odin, etc., but there were several that I did not recognize at all. I think I still understood the story decently, but I’m sure I would have been able to see many more layers than I did. Therefore, you might want to brush up on your history of religion to get the full effect of this book.
Final Impression: A profound, interesting read that I’ll probably re-visit in the future and recommend to most people. I’ll definitely be looking into reading more Neil Gaiman as well. I’d give it a 4/5 stars.