Shadow has spent the last three years in prison, biding his time, teaching himself coin tricks. He is waiting to be reunited with his beloved wife Laura, and planning to settle back into his old life working for his best friend Robbie. But Shadow’s life is soon to change forever: he receives the news that he is being let out of prison early, but his wife Laura has died in a tragic car accident.
Travelling back to Eagle Point to attend his wife’s funeral, Shadow meets the enigmatic Mr Wednesday who is keen to offer Shadow a job. Despite Shadow’s initial reluctance Mr Wednesday, displaying uncanny and supernatural abilities, pursues him and eventually persuades him to accept the job: he is to transport Wednesday about the country, run errands for him and protect him from any potential dangers.
As Shadow unwittingly seals their bargain by drinking three rounds of mead, he is swept up in an adventure with Wednesday, a self-proclaimed hustler and Old God, the incarnation of the Norse All-Father Odin. Wednesday is on a mission to recruit other Old Gods for what he sees as the inevitable war brewing between the Old Gods and the New Gods.
These New Gods of television, radio, the internet, credit cards and various other facets of modern culture, hate the Old Gods and systematically hunt them down one by one. But Wednesday has a plan involving all the Old Gods from ancient pantheons, brought to America through the belief of immigrants travelling to the New Land hundreds of years ago: he wants them to unite in one desperate last stand. But finding these often forgotten Gods, whose power has diminished over the ages, is no easy task; persuading them to join Wednesday’s cause is harder still.
Shadow and Wednesday set out on an epic road trip, taking in roadside attractions which Wednesday claims are great sources of power, and meeting Old Gods, culture heroes, leprechauns, dwarves, genies and gorgons from a multitude of pantheons. All the time they are fighting to stay ahead of the powerful New Gods, who have all of modern technology and belief on their side. And Shadow is searching for a way to bring his wife Laura back to life; she is not quite as dead as she should be.
Shadow’s odyssey will also uncover the secrets of his own mysterious past, as he learns how to take gold from the sun’s hoard, is granted the freedom of the moon, finally learns the identity of his father, and finds and loses his true name. His ultimate sacrifice on the World Tree reveals facts long disguised to him as he walks the path of Hard Truths and learns to be truly alive.