Joanne M. Harris – The Gospel of Loki

The Gospel of Loki

Joanne M. Harris

Gollancz

 

Loki. The trickster. The joker in the pack of Norse Gods. Always something up his sleeve, a word to get out of any situation. The archetype of the outsider. He has the fatal charm and the ready wit. And now he comes into his own with Joanne (M.) Harris’ new book.

First off, it’s a cracking tale that drives along at a very quick pace, the type of book where you’ve gone through fifty pages and are still hungry for more. In part, that’s the material, but it’s also down to Harris’ easy, conversational style as Loki. At its heart, this is classic storytelling technique, with the overarching envelope story reaching from Loki emerging from Chaos to Ragnarok and what happens after. But there are plenty of little tales in there, starting with the playful and gradually growing darker as the end begins to gather on the horizon, all of them building the character.

It wouldn’t be Loki without the humour, of course, and there’s plenty of that. After all, he’s a trickster, something that crops up in all mythologies, the wild card, or in his case, wild fire. He’s not one to settle easily, especially when the rest of the Gods never warm to him and keep him out of the charmed circle. Even his ‘brother’, Odin, never fully trusts him. But deceit and mistrust is part of the air in Asgard, home of the Gods.

Although billed as an adult fantasy, this is perhaps more of an interpretation of Nordic myth, building on it to lets Loki shine in all his aspects (pun intended). He’s not lovable but Harris marks his charms work so the reader’s on his side. And as the book goes on he becomes some more troubled by doubts, but still on a headlong drive for revenge – amazing how powerful that can be.

Set outside of time, there’s the freedom for the author to put in some sly contemporary one-liners (chillax and Choose Life come to mind) and a small asides about this and that, including those folk who need to mourn the famous they’ve never known in life. And all perfectly in character with Loki’s lightly eviscerating style.

Many of Harris’ protagonists have been outsiders. Vianne Roacher, the leads in blueeyedboy, Holy Fools, Coastliners, Blackberry Wine – none of them have been an easy part of society. So Loki is a natural extension of that. But where many of those she’s created before have redeeming qualities, they can be hard to find in Loki – unless you count regret. But even then, it’s part of the stew in his head.

Wonderfully paced, the sense of doom slowly encroaching until it becomes unstoppable as the manifestation of the Prophecy, events set in motion before the beginning – but also part of a long con – it’s a book of laughter and tears. You’ll embrace Loki even as you dislike him, and that’s a fine balancing act for a writer to achieve. ‘Gospel,’ of course, is a conceit, a world loaded with many connotations and quite deliberately chosen. But every word is true. Apart from the ones that aren’t, of course.

Read and enjoy, and try to manage what the Greeks hoped to achieve – balance order and chaos. It’s a joyous, terrifying, tumultuous ride. And there’s undoubtedly more to come.

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