The Gospel of Loki, by Joanne Harris. A book of fiction heavily based on the Norse myths; “the myths through Loki’s point of view” (think Wicked and Maleficent).
(Though this book is ostensibly about Loki, it does cover most of the myths. However, the author’s portrayal of Freya–and that of the rest of the Gods–leaves a lot to be desired.)
I was really excited to read this book and had some pretty high expectations for it. The blurb and some of the reviews were really positive, so even though I had never heard of this author and I had to pay international shipping rates for it, I bought it. I found it right after Thor: The Dark World came out, which I loved, and I do have to admit that I love both a) Tom Hiddleston and b) how he portrays Loki. (Sorry, Lokeans! Sad but true). In any event, that was part of what spurred me onto get this book. And, I mean, the Norse myths told from Loki’s POV? That’s got to be entertaining, right? Or at least thought-provoking.
In theory, at least.
I was underwhelmed by it to say the least. It started off strong, with snappy chapter titles and sayings, which were fun for a bit. Also, the fact that she started with the Audhumla creation myth was very exciting, so I knew I was going to see some Real Mythology in the book (as opposed to Marvel Mythology), but about a third of the way into it, she lost me. All told, it took me 6 months to read it, and that’s only because I forced myself to finish it so I could pass it on to some friends.
She really knows her mythology. Apparently, she was studying ancient Norse at the time she was writing this book. Almost every major myth is included, though of course from Loki’s perspective.
Her take on the Vanir/Aesir war and Gullvieg-Heide was one I hadn’t seen before, and brought up some interesting possibilities for my understanding the deities and politics involved. The depictions of Gullvieg’s and Mimir’s characters were perhaps the only place in the book where something really new and interesting was happening, and got me thinking. Each myth had a line or two that made me go, “Hmm…”, but overall nothing earth-shattering.
To be fair, the book did start out strong, portraying Loki as vivid rebel about to take on Asgard; and at the beginning, the snappy chapter titles were entertaining.
Loki is portrayed for the most part boring and whiny. Considering he’s (arguably) one of the most interesting characters of any mythology, anywhere; how anyone could make such an complex God this bland and one-sided–even just on a literary level–I’ll never know.
By about a third of the way through the book, the chapter titles started feeling a shtick, and Loki started to lose his panache. Other reviews have pointed out that her constant use of 90s-ish lingo (chillax, for example) and cheap one-liners got old quick, as well.
Her take on the runes was odd. Runes were called cantrips and essentially were the power word of some kind. Each God was assigned one or two, and lost or gained them as the story went on. Now, I’m pretty familiar with the runes and the rune poems, but even so, I just didn’t get why she assigned which runes to which god, nor did her definitions of individual runes ring true. There was no logic to it that I could see. It’s one of those moments where it really shows that the author doesn’t believe in these Gods or this worldview at all; it might sound interesting or even make sense on a literary level, but it doesn’t feel right at all from a practitioner’s point of view. So, for me, this component actually worked against her, because it really undermined my suspension of disbelief every time one was mentioned. (I think it’s interesting that the people who gave this book 5 stars on Amazon usually started off with, “I’m not familiar with Norse mythology/the Gods/the Runes/Loki at all, but this book was fabulous!”)
Though obviously I strongly approve of someone researching the actual myths and presenting them in a palatable way to a larger audience, in my opinion she did so at the cost of a more engaging, realistic story. I feel almost sacrilegious in saying this, but I wish she hadn’t included every since myth, or that she had attempted to create more of her own storyline to fill in the blanks. She did try hard to tie it all together into one cohorent narrative (a goal other authors have also tried to do), but it was stretch especially when coming from Loki’s point of view. Perhaps if she had come at it from Odin’s or his ravens’ POV; or maybe Yggdrasil’s? But then it would have been called The Gospel of Huginn and Muninn. (Someone must write that.)
Finally, only Odin, Mimir, and Gullvieg were portrayed as anything more than bland caricatures. Every other deity or jotun or animal was a empty shadow puppet squawking humorless one-liners. It was painful and very wearing after a while. Up to this point, Rick Riordan had earned much of my crankiness about how deities were represented in fiction books, but this went above and beyond his portrayals. For the most part, I understand what Riordan is doing on the larger scheme with this character representations, and generally they show a more complex side later on in his books, but Harris does not give her deities any redemption by the end of her book.
It was great to see the myths from Loki’s point of view, in a villain-turned-hero kind of way. However, it’s not that great of an example of that genre. So, if you have a lot of time, are a fast reader, and somehow get your hands on a free copy of this book, go ahead and read it. There are a few morsels for thought here and there. Otherwise, pass it by.
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