A story can even raise the dead

Gospel of LokiThe Gospel of Loki
by Joanne M Harris

I had very high hopes for this book, possibly too high, so that even though I really enjoyed reading it, I somehow feel slightly disappointed. I’m pretty sure I’m being unfairly harsh.

Yes, the Loki of the title is indeed the Loki of Norse myth. This is the story of his time in Asgard, from his recruitment by Odin, the Allfather, to the final battle of Ragnarok. Loki narrates the tale himself, putting his own self-serving spin on events as they unfold. In this accessible, relatable style, Harris successfully brings to life a complex set of myths without the whole thing feeling complicated (although I did have to refer to the handy character list a few times early on).

“Words are what remain when all the deeds have been done. Words can shatter faith; start a war; change the course of history. A story can make your heart beat faster; topple walls; scale mountains – hey, a story can even raise the dead.”

Loki comes from Chaos, a demon rather than a god, so the actual gods of Asgard are loathe to trust him. And though Odin insists they accept him, calling Loki brother, the Trickster has to prove himself by saving the day several times over, putting his tricky brains to good use. But he still resents the insults and the limitations of Asgardian life, and plots his revenges, small petty ones and – less small ones.

This means there’s a series of fun little tales before the build-up to the big war begins. There’s the story of how Thor got his hammer, how Hel got its queen, even how Loki got married, plus a dozen more besides. There’s shape-shifting, rune magic, an oracle and a great deal of fighting. Loki is fond of food (especially jam tarts), sex and sleep, but less enamoured with some of the other things that come with his human form, such as pain.

“There are advantages to being an independent entity. In Pandaemonium, I knew I would always be a spark in a forge; a flicker in a bonfire; a drop in an ocean of molten dreams. In Odin’s new world, I could be anything I wanted to be: an agent of change; a firebrand; a worker of miracles. A god.”

Loki is a fun but irritating narrator. He didn’t come across as very silver-tongued, despite that being one of his key traits. Harris has given him a very modern turn of phrase, which I found disconcerting. Particularly because Harris hasn’t used her usual literary fiction style, but instead adopted a style that is less descriptive and less emotionally involving. I mean, it’s an epic tale of war and deeds, a heroic myth, so that does make some sense, but I guess it wasn’t what I’d hoped for.

I know, I should review the book I read, not the one I wanted or expected, and it was enjoyable – I mean, I laughed out loud multiple times – and it was informative. I’ve never known Norse myth as well as Greek or Roman but this felt well researched. It was an entertaining romp that engaged me as a story, but it was not emotionally engaging, and I guess I missed that.

Published 2014 by Gollancz.

Source: Christmas present from my brother.