The Gospel of Loki, by Joanne Harris

Review published on February 27, 2014. Reviewed by Marleen Kennedy

Loki, that’s me.
Loki, the Light-Bringer, the misunderstood, the elusive, the handsome and modest hero of this particular tissue of lies.
Take it with a pinch of salt, but it’s at least as true as the official version, and, dare I say it, more entertaining. So far, history, such as it is, has cast me in a rather unflattering role.
Now it’s my turn to take the stage.

Loki, the trickster God; creature of chaos who played an instrumental and foretold role in Ragnarók, the end of the world and the fall of the Gods as told by ‘The Prophecy of the Oracle. But, as Loki tells us, that is the official version of history and history, being his story, can’t be trusted.

And because this isn’t history, but mystery – my story – let’s start with me for a change.

And that’s where we do start, with Loki, in what he calls Lokabrenna – the Gospel of Loki because:

Writing history and making history are only the breadth of a page apart.

We are told the story of Loki and the Nordic Gods from the moment the trickster is recruited from the realm of Chaos by Odin. We watch as he is brought to Asgard, to take his place among the Gods without ever being given his own space there. From the very start he is distrusted and kept on the sidelines although that doesn’t stop any of the other Gods from using him whenever they have an issue that needs to be dealt with.

We witness Loki as resentment against those who refuse to treat him as an equal rises. He tells us about his rise in popularity as long as he can give the other Gods that which they yearn for and rejoice with him during his short spell of popularity only for it all to fall apart again. With the Oracle having prophesised that Loki will play a pivotal role in the destruction of Asgard it was always only a matter of time before the other Gods would turn on him and even Odin would go back on his word and withdraw his support and the promise of brotherhood. The fact that Loki, in this telling anyway, only finds himself fighting against the Gods he lived among because they never treated him like an equal and were only too happy to bring him down just goes to show that prophecies are by their very nature self-fulfilling.

This is a wonderful book. Loki, is a self-confessed trickster, the ultimate unreliable narrator, and warns his readers that his version of events is at least as untrustworthy as the official version. And yet, he strikes a tone that makes it hard for the reader not to sympathise with him. While he never denies the dirty tricks he played on those around him, he manages to describe those events in such words that you almost believe he didn’t have a choice. All the other Gods, as described by Loki, have bad habits and unsympathetic characteristics, while Loki comes across as charming, funny as well as opportunistic and devious. It is impossible to read this book and not walk away thinking that of all those living in Asgard, Loki would have been the most fun to hang out with.

(…) the difference between god and demon is really on a matter of perspective.

And Loki is both god and demon, or maybe he is neither and just fallible, or, dare I say it, human in his desires, resentments, hopes, disappointments and actions.

There is much to love and enjoy in this book. The book is filled to the brim with quotable passages. Some of these are pure wisdom:

A man too often meets his Fate whilst running to avoid it.

Or,

People tend to blame Chaos whenever anything goes wrong, but in fact, most of the time Chaos doesn’t need to intervene.

And,

There’s no happy-ever-after for anyone, least of all the gods, who, if they’re lucky, get to rule the world for a while before another tribe takes over.

And then there are those passages that are just great fun, while they also make you nod your head and think, he’s got a point there.

But some might say that where women are concerned, all men are one-eyed, and even that eye doesn’t see much.

On the surface this is the exciting, well written and fascinating retelling of Nordic myth. Dig a little bit deeper and you’ll find a book filled with wisdom as well as humour and food for thought. History is usually told by the victors. This story however doesn’t have a winner. When the battle has ended everything has been lost, the world has been destroyed and Loki comes to the conclusion that while he has achieved his revenge on those who’ve treated him badly, he has lost at least as much as they have.

I’d realized that one of the things I enjoyed most was challenging Order and breaking rules – and how in the Worlds could I do that if there was no Order to challenge?

Joanna Harris is an author whose books I’ve enjoyed on numerous occasions in the past. This book is completely different from those earlier works and yet there are similarities. Her talent for drawing the reader into her story, to have them compulsively read on almost unaware of the pages being turned, is as strong in this mythical story as it was in those books of magical realism.

Although I know that Loki’s story ends with the destruction of Asgard and his return to Chaos I can’t help hoping, with the trickster himself, that there still is something more to come, one more trick up the Oracle’s sleeve.

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Gretel and the Dark, by Eliza Granville

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Channel Blue, by Jay Martel

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