Review: The Gospel of Loki by Joanne M. Harris

Shh, whatever you do, don’t mention him. You know, him. No, not Lord Voldemort, that other guy. He’s real. You know the one.

Now that we’ve got that out of the way, can I just say that The Gospel of Loki by Joanne M. Harris is brilliant?

The story of the trickster god, told through the eyes and voice of Loki, Harris’s book takes us from the story of how the worlds were formed to the final battle of the gods and their destruction. In between are tales of Loki’s exploits as one of the gods of Asgard, all winding their way slowly to the gripping conclusion.

The stories told in this book may be familiar to some, although I didn’t read any Norse myths when I was younger. The scant knowledge I have comes from that person we’re not mentioning, who was in those things we’re also not going to mention.

As familiar as the stories may be, the way they’re told is very, very different, and very distinctive. From the moment I started reading The Gospel of Loki I was hooked, and that was because I could hear the voice of Harris’s Loki in my head. In this book, the method of telling is almost as important as the telling itself. Harris combines Norse terms with much more modern language, takes the myths and injects humour and sarcasm into them. Her Loki could come up to you today and have a conversation with you, and you’d think he’d lived in the 21st century all his life (apart from his appearance). The way Harris uses language is utterly compelling – I can’t remember the last time I read a character whose voice I so easily heard.

The Gospel of Loki is split into books, with each an insight into a different arc of Loki’s life. Within each book are lessons, rather than chapters, with Loki extolling on a particular subject or incident. The approach works well, as each lesson starts with a title and the lesson itself before launching into the narrative i.e. Book One, Lesson Seven: Hair and beauty, never trust a lover. Those titles also hint at the humour within – I was surprised by just how funny The Gospel of Loki was, despite the tragedies it contained. It was fun to read and I found myself chuckling throughout, just because Loki is a very funny character.

Covering as it does the Norse myths, The Gospel of Loki features many, many characters. Helpfully, there is a guide to them at the front of the book, with descriptions by Loki, who hates them nearly all of them. I felt the same. Loki might be mischievous, and heartless, and selfish, but the rest of the gods, from Thor to Sif to Odin are even worse. Of course, we only see them through Loki’s eyes, so we’re biased, but you can’t help but love Loki and dislike everyone he dislikes. It would be disloyal otherwise.

The Gospel of Loki is a brilliant (as mentioned before), clever novel. This novel has been percolating in Harris’s mind for almost 40 years, and I’m pleased to say, it was well worth that time.

How I got this book: From the publisher, Gollancz. This did not affect my review.

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