He takes up an offer to be bodyguard for one Mr. Wednesday (an incarnation of the Norse god Odin)- a man who mysteriously knows more about Shadow than he had ever told anyone. Mr. Wednesday is raising an army – finding humans who have god-like qualities, Americans who may be manifestations of Norse gods - to wage war against the modern demons that have taken over the world, such as the Internet and technological advances in the fields of media and transport. Shadow meets many such gods – Mr. Nancy (Anansi) and Mad Sweeney, the latter gifts him a gold coin that brings back Laura as a revenant.
As they try to unite the forces of the Old Gods from Chicago, Illinois and Madison, Wisconsin, they are met with reluctance and lack of enthusiasm; just about ten of them agree to fight for the cause. Shadow meets the guardian goddesses - Zorya and the dark god - Czernobog, who refuses to help Odin. The ‘New Gods’ take advantage of this disparity and abduct Shadow, who is rescued by Laura.
Odin hides Shadow in a funeral parlor with Egyptian gods and later at Lakeside - a town that remains whilst others around it perish and turn into ghost towns, however, the children of the town seem to disappear, too many, too often. However, since they travel so much, he cannot really find out more, this added to the fact that he is still being chased by the minions of the New Gods, who blame him for the death of one of their own (actually killed by Laura).
Sadly, Mr. Wednesday is killed and Shadow follows him into the afterlife, himself dying. Whilst in strange purgatory, Shadow learns he is Wednesday’s son. Meanwhile Low Key Lyesmith, his cellmate, is actually a player in this whole gods vs gods mess - and now is responsible for Odin’s death, ensuring that he is at the helm of all the other deities.
An apocalyptic battle begins, and Shadow reaches just in time to drive sense into the Old and New gods; he appeals to their good senses, which having prevailed, prevent a climactic end of the world war from happening. Odin’s spirit departs, as do those of the other gods, who deem America unfit for gods (!).Low Key is impaled by Laura, whose battle with purgatory ends with Shadow taking back the golden coin Sweeney gave him.
When Shadow returns to Lakeside, he is able to solve the mystery of the missing children – who were in fact abducted by Hinzlemann, an ancient Germanic god. Hinzlemann sanctified and sheltered the community, making it thrive notwithstanding the adversities that curse the other communities around - all this in exchange for the unconscionable surrender of their children. Shadow puts an end to the evil Hinzlemann, aware that his act endangers the very existence of the town.
Shadow travels to Iceland, meeting the actual Odin, giving him Wednesday’s glass eye for a keepsake. He once more flips a coin to choose his fate, but walks away before seeing it fall to the ground. In keeping with the tradition of fantasy, mythology and monomyth, Gaiman once more creates a gripping tale - which leaves you feeling a little subdued and somewhat blue in the end, for not just America, the gods of every other country have diminished in stature, thanks to the Colossus-like rise of Technology.