This was my first of Gaiman's novels-- not counting Good Omens, which he co-authored with Terry Pratchett-- and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Both books took well-known themes and twisted them into something new and unique, and I really enjoy that. I will definitely be reading more of Gaiman's work.
I really liked the concept of this book. In a very amateur way, I enjoy mythology, mysticism, religions, rituals and belief structures. By "amateur way" I mean that I am interested in these things, but I'm too lazy to actually "study" it. I like the entertainment that mythology and the like offer, I like the escapism. One passage that I really liked from the book represents this perfectly:"Fiction allows us to slide into these other heads, these other places, and look out through other eyes. And then in the tale we stop before we die, or we die vicariously and unharmed, and in the world beyond the tale we turn the page or close the book, and we resume our lives."
Anyway... This is one of those rare treats of a book that never fully give up their secrets on the first reading. As I was going through, I marked some passages that made me sit back, reread and just absorb them. One, which I found almost heartbreakingly sad and cruel, is:"A whole life in darkness, surrounded by filth, that was what Shadow dreamed, his first night in Lakeside. A child's life, long ago and far away, in a land across the ocean, in the lands where the sun rose. But this life contained no sun-rises, only dimness by day and blindness by night.
Nobody spoke to him. He heard human voices, from outside, but could understand human speech no better than he understood the howling of the owls or the yelps of dogs.
He remembered, or thought he remembered, one night, half a lifetime ago, when one of the big people had entered, quietly, and had not cuffed him or fed him, but had picked him up to her breast and embraced him. She smelled good. Hot drops of water had fallen from her face to his. He had been scared, and wailed loudly in his fear.
She put him down on the straw, hurriedly, and left the hut, fastening the door behind her.
He remembered that moment, and he treasured it, just as he remembered the sweetness of a cabbage heart, the tart taste of plums, the crunch of apples, the greasy delight of roasted fish.
And now he saw the faces in the firelight, all of them looking at him as he was led out from the hut for the first time, which was the last time. So that was what people looked like. Raised in darkness, he had never seen faces. Everything was so new. So strange. The bonfire light hurt his eyes. They pulled on the rope around his neck, to lead him to the place where the man waited for him.
And when the first blade was raised in the firelight, what a cheer went up from the crowd. The child from the darkness began to laugh with them, in delight and in freedom.
And then the blade came down."
After finishing the book, I came back to this passage and found it even more interesting after learning the implications. I feel like when I revisit this book there will be a TON of missed references sprinkled throughout the book. I look forward to it.