The Gospel of Loki by Joanne M Harris
The concept of this book is very intriguing, the Norse mythology that is so widely known retold from the perspective of the one who brought down Asgard – Loki the Trickster. Will we discover that Loki is actually a misunderstood soul rather than the backstabbing traitor that the original stories portray him as?
The story is told through a series of short stories, taking place across an indeterminate amount of time, from Loki’s perspective. We learn of his origins in Chaos and how he becomes part of the gods of Asgard, and consequently their downfall.
While this book definitely tells the myths from a different perspective, all it resulted in for me was a general dislike for every character mentioned. While the stories themselves are quite interesting, I found myself not actually bothered about who won or lost, or ultimately who is the moral victor. Though Harris is certainly a decent writer, if her aim was to portray Loki as a more sympathetic character, she fails pretty spectacularly, and I think that is what this book boils down to; it doesn’t matter how interesting the story is when none of the characters are likeable.
Due to the short-story nature of the individual chapters, there was no feeling of large amounts of time passing, more just a series of events that could have taken a few weeks rather than numerous years. I went into the story hoping that Loki would grow from Wildfire into a more recognisable, human character with whom a reader could relate to as an outsider trying to find their place in the universe, but there was no investment in any of the characters.
Loki himself is given enough space to talk to allow us to grow attached to him in some way, and he is certainly an entertaining enough narrator (though at times rather childish), but there was no likeability or connection to the reader that make a narrator truly memorable.
I’ve enjoyed Harris’ dark psychological thrillers before, and I was hoping she would bring the same darkness and exploration of character to this book, but unfortunately for me it simply didn’t live up to expectation. She certainly knows her Norse mythology, and I can’t find fault with it at all, but the delivery was disappointing.
Jo Fitzpatrick, 5/10
What a great time to write a book focusing on Loki the trickster god of Norse mythology! The popularity of Loki is on the rise with thanks to the stellar turn of Tom Hiddleston in Marvel’s Thor and Avengers Assemble film. This book follows closely to The Prose Edda of Snorri Sturluson.
In the book Loki is the star and we follow his viewpoint from the beginning of the world, when Order and Chaos came together to create the Nine Worlds, to Ragnarok where the Nine Worlds end and Chaos for a while takes over. The Gospel of Loki is broken into four books, Light, Shadow, Sunset and Twilight. Each book is then split into lessons, with a line of wisdom from the Lokabrenna.
Loki himself as the main character is charmingly engaging, although like anyone whose luck seemingly runs out, for all his problems he can never blame himself. Loki has complicated relationships with all the other gods and monsters. Where he tries to win the trust of the gods he loses the trust of any other allies he may one day require. This can make Loki sometimes come off as whiny as he never has the love and respect that he craves and yet he is never able to give it anyone else either.
Loki’s take on the official story of Norse mythology is that this is propaganda passed out by Odin as in “his-story – history” where as Loki’s story is “my-story – mystery”. As we always learn, History is written by the survivors. This is an intelligently written story which focuses on the lack of trust between two characters whose relationship is semi-dependent on their final goals. Maybe if there had been trust Ragnarok may have been a forgotten idea that twinkled from a distance. As the gods in this story are driven by their main rune aspect they do seem fairly one dimensional, but in a story about gods this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. I found this book to be interesting, giving a different take on an old story, but mostly it made me want to read The Prose Edda again, which if it makes other people feel this way will give them a well rounded view of Norse mythology.
Michelle Herbert, 8/10
The Gospel of Loki, first published February 13, 2014 by Gollancz, is the first work of epic fantasy for adults by award-winning author Joanne Harris.
I must admit that I was a cynic when I first picked up this book; I was concerned that Joanne Harris would not be able to replicate the great success she has enjoyed in non-fantasy genres. However, my concern was misplaced and Joanne M Harris (adopting the Iain Banks style middle initial for the fantasy genre) has produced an engaging and unique take on Old Norse mythology.
The book is written from the viewpoint of the Norse trickster god, Loki. With his notorious reputation for trickery and deception, and an ability to cause as many problems as he solves, Loki is a Norse god like no other. Demon-born, he is viewed with deepest suspicion by his fellow gods who will never accept him as one of their own and for this he vows to take his revenge.
But while Loki is planning the downfall of Asgard and the humiliation of his tormentors, greater powers are conspiring against the gods and a battle is brewing that will change the fate of the Worlds.
From his recruitment by Odin from the realm of Chaos, through his years as the go-to man of Asgard, to his fall from grace in the build-up to Ragnarok, this is the unofficial history of the world's ultimate trickster.
We look at events through his perspective as he narrates the creation of the nine worlds - well known myths involving the other gods and their final conflict.
Throughout the story it is apparent that Harris is an expert of Norse mythology and she makes it into a compelling subject matter that encourages the revisiting of these historic tales. It did in fact inspire me to research the origins of Mimir’s prophecy to Odin.
Loki’s unique narration brings the myths to life with a grounded and modern take on the traits and weaknesses of the gods of Asgard. My particular favourite was Loki’s besotted (and slightly deranged) wife, Sigyn, complete with homemade jam tarts and fruit cake.
I found the build up to Ragnarok inventive and absorbing. This was assisted by recognisable twists on the good and bad guys from Norse myth such as Jormagund and (sulky teenager) Fenris. Despite Loki’s thoroughly despicable acts you do end up feeling sympathy for him and contempt for his dullard fellow gods and goddesses.
I look forward to Harris’ next foray in to fantasy, especially if she applies her love of Norse mythology again.
Joe Warren, 9.2/10
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