Book Review: The Gospel of Loki by Joanne Harris
A review copy of this book was provided to me by the publisher in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.
Genre: Fantasy, Mythology
Series: Stand Alone
Publisher: Saga Press (US: May 5, 2015)
Mogsy’s Rating: 4 of 5 stars
It’s been so many years since I read Chocolat, that for all intents and purposes The Gospel of Loki may as well be the first book I’ve ever read by Joanne Harris. Highly entertaining and original, this novel chronicles the epic rise of the Norse gods all the way through to the coming of Ragnarok, completely retold from the point of view of none other than the trickiest trickster of them all – Loki.
First thing you should know though, if you’re like me and sometimes you get that temptation to skip everything before the prologue in a book? Well, fight it! Be sure to read everything, including the character list. I had started skimming it initially, right up until I glimpsed Thialfi and Roskva, the two siblings in Norse mythology who are the servants of the god Thor, respectively described as a “fanboy” and a “fangirl”. Chuckling to myself, I went back and read everything more carefully. Glad I did! Aside from being absolutely hilarious, the forward material sets the tone of the novel perfectly, and I knew right away that I was going to enjoy this.
Now I don’t usually use quotes when I try to summarize a book, but in this case I’ll make an exception, simply because I doubt anyone else can describe the book better than our eponymous narrator. Plus, it gives a good idea what you’d be in for:
“Loki, that’s me. Loki, the Light-Bringer, the misunderstood, the elusive, the handsome and modest hero of this particular tissue of lies. Take it with a pinch of salt, but it’s at least as true as the official version and, dare I say it, more entertaining. So far, history, such as it is, has cast me in a rather unflattering role. Now it’s my turn to take the stage.”
Well, considering the legions who are now in love with Tom Hiddleston’s portrayal of Loki after the Thor movies, “unflattering role” might be debatable, but the rest I have to say is pretty spot on. The version of events presented here is indeed vastly more entertaining, our protagonist is as humorous as he’s not humble, and as he puts it, this is his story; at the end of the book, whether or not you feel sympathy towards Loki for some of his less savory actions is entirely up to you.
In many ways, the book is a retelling in the most honest and straightforward sense; it stays very close to the source material which are the well-known Norse myths, featuring stories about the giant mason who built Asgard’s Walls, Loki and Angrboda’s tryst and the subsequent births of the three Chaos Monsters, the theft of Idunn’s apples, the death of Balder by mistletoe dart, etc. None of the events described in this novel deviate all that much from the traditional versions, but the one major difference is the voice that tells us those tales. Loki chimes in with his own take of these stories, dropping little nuggets of wisdom and of the things he’s learned, even as he’s filling in the details. Although he’s unreliable as Hel and it’s in his nature to be up to no good, Loki nevertheless attempts to give us his reasons for the things he did, and admittedly, he can be quite convincing.
So if you were expecting a creative, “modernized” re-imagining of the myths or a brand new story, this is not that book, though the narrative does use present-day vernacular to great effect. I loved Loki’s voice in this, the way he delivers his lines with that silver tongue and dry sense of humor. Harris has done a brilliant job hitting the sweet spot with Loki’s character, portraying him as the ultimate trickster without going overboard with his slippery, snarky ways. He’s exactly the way I would have pictured the god of mischief, and my hat’s off to the author for nailing it.
Overall, The Gospel of Loki succeeds in giving readers both something old and something new, and manages to be a lot of fun while doing it. A fantastic way to experience the major Norse myths, those with an interest in the topic are sure to delight in the engaging new way Harris has presented them in this novel. Highly recommended.