THE GOSPEL OF LOKI
The rise and fall of Asgard and the Norse gods, as told by Loki the Trickster (also called Wildfire, Father of Lies, Light-Bringer, etc.), one of the most notorious members of the Norse pantheon – and one of the key players in its ruin.
The Gospel of Loki is the first fantasy novel from best-selling author Joanne M. Harris, who is best known for her novels Chocolat, Blackberry Wine, and Five Quarters of the Orange, amongst others. It was first published in 2014.
The story was a pretty straight-up retelling of the traditional Norse legends. I’m hardly an expert on the subject, but I didn’t notice any significant deviations from the source material in terms of plot, or setting, or… anything, really – except perspective. The selling point with this book is that it’s narrated by Loki, who’s not a character whose side we often get to see (recent Marvel-induced popularity notwithstanding). And Loki’s insights were interesting, but not interesting enough to be the driving force of a whole book.
I’ve bumped this section up a point simply because the source material was solid, and therefore the actual plot is quite fun. And I will admit to a certain amount of satisfaction upon seeing Loki’s more successful exploits. 😛
There was quite a large cast of characters in this book, and Harris did a good job of making them all quite memorable, but unfortunately it wasn’t always for the best reasons, which made it very difficult to truly like any of them. Loki himself was funny, but often cruel – something I expected, since he is the Trickster god. What I didn’t expect was quite how petty he would seem, or that it would carry over to the rest of the characters as well. Even the gods whom I think I would ordinarily have liked (such as Balder and Idun) were tainted by it, as we see them through Loki’s eyes, and the “nice” gods always seem to be the ones that he dislikes the most.
Additionally, there was a distinct lack of anything resembling character development. Everyone in this book is a walking stereotype, with no desire to break out of that mould. The almost episodic nature of the storytelling would usually lend itself towards a character-driven story, but because all the characters are gods, and only have one or two “aspects” each, there’s just no room for them to change or grow at all, except in terms of developing grudges – which just brings me back to the pettiness.
The quick pacing of the majority of this book unfortunately took something of a toll on the world-building: The narrative jumps rapidly between different events, with little time to flesh things out in-between. The different worlds in which the story takes place are described loosely in the early parts of the book, but it would have been impossible to tell when Loki moved between them, if he hadn’t mentioned it himself – and, in fact, most of the locations in the book were distinctly same-y. Asgard itself was an exception to this, however, as it was where Loki spent most of the book, and its hierarchy and geography were quite well-described.
In terms of pacing, the story started out quite slow, but flowed more easily after the first few chapters, and Harris’ writing style was quite engaging – it’s easy to see that she’s an experienced writer. The book is written in first person, and as a recollection, meaning that the narrator (Loki) is portrayed as omniscient, armed with his future knowledge, which is something that I know a lot of people can find irritating, though I personally wasn’t troubled by it.
Loki’s narrative itself was very witty, and I found myself stumbling across quite a few laugh-out-loud moments, even though in other parts I also found him quite irritating. In particular, he had the annoying habit of constantly referring to himself as “Yours Truly” or “Your Humble Narrator”, instead of just using “I”.
OVERALL IMPRESSION [3/5]
A witty retelling of the Norse myths, from an interesting new perspective, but which was more interesting for its individual story arcs than for its overarching plot – and which unfortunately fell rather flat due to a disagreeable and under-developed cast of characters. Enjoyable, but flawed.
Mythology fans (particularly Norse mythology, for obvious reasons). Those who like less scrupulous main characters will also probably appreciate Loki’s perspective – such as those in Mark Lawrence’s The Broken Empire trilogy, or Scott Lynch’s Gentleman Bastard books.