American Gods - Neil Gaiman 4.5 stars. It has long been a shameful secret of mine that I've never read a Neil Gaiman novel. Sure, I've read his Sandman comics and a few of his short stories, but somehow, the opportunity to read a full-length novel of his has never come up, despite the fact that books like American Gods and Neverwhere have been sitting in my Kindle gathering metaphorical dust for like, oh, I don't know...the past two or three years.

That's why this summer I made it a point to lose my Neil Gaiman virginity, and decided to give the honor to American Gods first of all because it is considered one of his "classics", and second of all because the Tenth Anniversary Edition of the book I owned also had the added benefit of an audiobook Whispersync bundle deal, which I'd picked up as well. As it turned out, this worked out for the best.

And now I have the hefty task of actually trying to describe what American Gods is about. The book begins with the introduction of Shadow, a man coming up on the end of his three-year prison sentence and looking forward to get back to his life. Days before his release, however, he gets news that his beloved wife was killed in a car accident, along with his best friend. Freed from prison now but with his life in tatters, Shadow agrees to work for a mysterious stranger he meets on the way home, a man who calls himself "Mr. Wednesday".

Shadow travels across America with Wednesday, meeting his new boss' unusual friends and colleagues, and here's where things start to get cryptic and mystical. Wednesday and his peers turn out to be incarnations of the Old Gods of ancient mythology, whose powers are waned since the rise of modern life and the technological era, these aspects themselves manifesting as the American "New Gods". Everything Shadow thought he knew has been turned upside down. Nothing is as it seems; legends and myths are real, secrets are everywhere, everything is connected...and war is coming.

You ever read a book where you know very early on that it's not the kind for you, but you end up enjoying it a lot anyway, because it's just so beautifully written and profound? This was definitely one of those for me. I'd known what I was in for, of course; like I said, I've had some experience with Neil Gaiman's style of writing and know that his stuff is often allusive and metaphysical, surreal and abstract in nature.

In other words, totally not my thing at all. And thematically, the book turned out to be exactly as I'd expected. By all rights, I shouldn't have liked it, but I did. Wow. And now I finally understand the reason it's considered a contemporary masterpiece, and why Mr. Gaiman has so many fans.

Recall how I said I also had an Audible copy of American Gods, and that's actually how I read this novel, going back and forth between the ebook and the audiobook. I wanted to bring this up because I feel the excellent production quality of the latter definitely bears mentioning. Sometimes, great voice actors can bring the words to life, and that can also certainly make me enjoy a book much more than I normally would. The Tenth Anniversary version I had included a full cast featuring excellent narrators, which made it all the more engrossing, not to mention Neil Gaiman himself narrated some sections of the novel as well as the foreword, afterword, and other extras.

This edition is also the newly updated and expanded version with the author’s preferred text, so I definitely appreciated the chance to read this book in a state that's closer to what it's meant to be. One thing I think everyone agrees about Neil Gaiman is that you can count on him to be original and innovative, and the uniqueness of the themes and ideas in American Gods unquestionably reflects that. The extras included in this version really tied everything together and provided a lot of insight into this intellectual work of art -- because yes, after having experienced this book, I definitely consider it art.

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