The hero (anti-hero?), 'Shadow', is hired upon being released from jail (and on the death of his wife and friend whom had a job lined up for him) by 'Wednesday'. Wednesday turns out to be Odin, the Allfather and the book follows his goal of rallying the 'old gods' against the new. The new gods are things currently worshipped like 'media' and 'wired technology' (?) and are of the opinion the old gods have no place remaining in America. The gods require belief/faith/sacrifices on which to sustain themselves, though some are making their way by working. Others hate the new order of humanity so much that they kill themselves (Thor - Nooooooo!), are killed by the lack of current belief, or are killed by the 'opposition'. And to completely ruin the surprise - Shadow is Odin's bastard son, we find out, which explains why he is able to do things like induce a snow storm just by wishing for it. Cool.
The old gods were brought over/brought into being in the US by the settlers from every which country in the world. And at the end it is revealed that the version of the gods in the US are alternate to the version in the home land, since the Allfather remains in Scandinavia, though knows all about his other deeds over the sea. A twist I quite liked.
The massive twist of the book is that Odin is actually engineering the whole war, with the help of Loki who is 'leading' the other side. The plan was that they would get the gods to fight, and 'Dedicate the battle to Odin' which would give him a massive power boost, (and get rid of some of the competition). What I don't understand, and am disappointed was left out - was the explanation of what happens when the god does die. Does everyone who believes in him/her suddenly forget? Or does their continued belief bring them back to 'life'? Because I figure, you can kill the 'god' of technology, but that bitch 'aint going nowhere. And if they require belief for sustenance why don't they show themselves to their believers more often? Even the most ambivalent believer would start sacrificing half of their dinner steak if they knew the Allfather was actually hovering behind them.
I did like the vagueness used to describe the gods, sometimes clues as to who they were, were in their name, other times in the work they did or the objects they carried. Sometimes hints were given in the wee interval stories, and occasionally not realised until the end. Very careful and clever drip-feeding of knowledge: I like it when an author does not assume you unintelligent. I also liked the extremely broad range of faiths represented - I'm all for myths and legends; I love stories.
An afterword at the end of the book shows the scene in which Shadow meets Jesus, cut from the original text for, I think, continuity reasons. Jesus is of course the richest, most healthy of all the gods in America. (though I suspect Media and Internet etc have him beat for shear power) however even he is not happy with the way things are going, since you 'become what they make you'.
So - a good book. I have heard that it's one you either love or hate, and I suspect that depends on your own level of theism, in some regard. Not a heavy or difficult read, and more of a slow steady burn rather than a raging inferno with regards to the liking of it. 4 out of 5 (where: 1=actively burning it, 2=waste of time, 3=don't regret having read it, but...4=good book, recommended, 5= blewmymindwhyhaven'tyoureadityetI'vegottogoreaditagaintalktoyoulater).
"And what would drink or cold be doing killing me, a leprechaun of the blood? No, it was you losing the little golden sun killed me, Shadow, killed me dead as sure as water’s wet and days are long and a friend will always disappoint you in the end."
Oh wow- its being made into a TV series. Huh. Due out this year even. God, but I am the last to jump on these bandwagons. Fo' shame. Ooo ooh - I read it before it was a movie/TV thing! HipsterSnap! Hah.