Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Review - The Gospel of Loki

The Gospel of Loki
Joanne Harris
Hachette Australia

4 out of 5 stars

Everything I knew about Loki prior to reading this book was courtesy of this dude:
Okay, so it was courtesy of Marvel, but whatever. Same difference, right? And everything I knew about Norse mythology came from a misspent youth in which I played too much Age of Mythology (man, how good was that game??).

All of this is a rather long-winded way of saying that I went into this book with only the most cursory knowledge of Loki, Asgard, and North mythology as a whole. What I did have, however, was a love of Joanne Harris' writing, which has been kindled over the years by the Chocolat series.

The Gospel of Loki is, as the name suggests, the Norse myths retold from Loki's perspective. It spans all of Norse mythology from Odin becoming the Allfather to the fall of Asgard and Ragnarok. As Loki points out at the beginning of his narrative, history is always one sided. Who's good and who's evil is determined by the victors, and passed down through the generations. Odin is, Loki tells us, not the most reliable of narrators, and he's here to set the story straight.

Of course, it follows that Loki is ALSO not the most reliable of narrators. What follows is an incredibly biased but enormously entertaining version of the Norse myths. Loki is cocky and mischievous, but also full of "it wasn't my fault" and "what else could I have done?". While his bias shines strongly throughout the story, the humour of the writing wins out, making the reader cheer for Loki long after it's become apparent that we probably shouldn't be.

One of the things I found most interesting was Loki effectively referring to himself and the other gods of Asgard as celebrities. Throughout the story, the gods hang out in Asgard, largely oblivious to what's happening in Midgard. But periodically, they decide to go and check it out where they quickly discover that they have a huge number of fans, that people expect great things of them, that when things don't happen as your fans expect, they can turn on you very quickly.

The writing was absolutely beautiful from start to finish. I'm not usually a highlighter when I read on my Kindle - I have 95 books on my Kindle and 6 highlights - but with this book I felt like I was highlighting constantly because the writing was so brilliant (I just checked and I have 8 highlighted passages. Given my highlighting history, that's pretty epic). It's frequently modern sounding, not only from the discussion of celebrities and fans, but through the use of terms like "chillax". These aren't the stodgy, long-winded myths of the books your grandparents gave you as a small child.

Where it lost a star for me was in the depiction of the gods other than Loki and Odin. They tend to be a little one dimensional, particularly Heimdell whose sole purpose seems to be hating Loki. Still, given the biased narration and the sheer number of gods in Asgard, it's not surprising that some of them would be a little on the underdeveloped side. In addition, there isn't really an overarching story for the first two thirds of the book so much as "Loki played tricks on the gods/got into a scrape. Here's how it turned out." Which, don't get me wrong, was still a really fun read and lets the "gospel" concept shine through. It was only Loki's mentions of revenge that gave me a sense that it was building towards anything.

Final verdict? A thoroughly enjoyable story told by a clearly biased but still lovable narrator, and filled with beautiful writing.

Does this sound like something you'd want to read?

K xx

Disclaimer: I received a free ARC from the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. The Gospel of Loki will be available in Australia February 25th (February 20th elsewhere in the world). 

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