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Book Review: The Gospel of Loki by Joanne M. Harris

Wow, did I have mixed feelings about this one.

I enjoyed a lot of aspects of Harris’s thoughtful, creative re-imagining of Norse mythology, but much of this novel had me cocking my head and going, “Huh?”

gospel of loki
Not the cover, though. That cover is AWESOME!

I’ll start with the good…

Many of the characters are great. Sigyn is awesome.

Granted, Loki’s long-suffering wife in Harris’s novel is nothing like the Sigyn in my Loki novel. Still, this portrayal is excellent; she manages to be touching, hilarious, and just the right combination of tragic and comedic. Harris nailed it here.

Much of the world-building in this novel is also fascinating (with one exception…I’ll get there). Harris’s mythological universe is like a cross between the Eddas and Neil Gaiman’s Sandman series. And, most of the time, it really worked. I could get Ironwood Forest, the Dreaming, even the constant struggle between chaos and order.

And hey, there’s Loki!

loki wink

Harris’s Loki is a convincing, heartbreaking, unreliable narrator. That’s tricky to pull off, and I commend it.

But… Not all the parts worked, and even those I liked didn’t work all the time.

It was interesting to see what aspects of Norse mythology Harris used, and what she ignored. Many of the stories – Thor as a bride, the abduction of Idunn – come straight from the text. But some things don’t; Loki’s origin, for instance. In Harris’s novel, he’s a being of pure chaos called into physical form. Which is cool and all, but in the Eddas he’s a Jotunn, with named parents.

Still, that’s part of the fun of playing with myths. You can take what you like and improvise wildly with the rest.

A change I didn’t quite understand was Harris’s treatment of Loki’s sons, Vali and Nari. Their fate in the Eddas is just about the worst thing imaginable, and I’m not sure why Harris shied away from it. Her decision to gloss it over felt like a missed opportunity.

And that one exception to her world-building? It was Asgard, realm of the Æsir and the setting for much of the novel.

I understand the need to modernize these myths, but I think Harris veered a little too far into modernization with Asgard. The realm of the Æsir just wasn’t coherent. Sure, I’ll accept that gods shape-shift and have alternate battle forms. But it’s really pushing my willful suspension of disbelief to think they would say, “Chillax.”

Landscape descriptions in Asgard suffered from a similar problem. Loki says his housing doesn’t have running water, or complains about the curtains in Sigyn’s house, and I’m thinking, “Wait, didn’t these stories take place in pre-history?”

I’m not going to say someone’s depiction of Asgard is wrong – I mean, my Loki novel has Thor saying “bumping uglies” – but those details pulled me out of the story and left me scratching my head.

And then there’s the ending.

the end

Obviously I’m not going to tell you how this novel ends. Even I’m not that evil.

And I won’t say I was expecting rainbows and unicorns. The Norse myths themselves don’t exactly have a surplus of rainbows or unicorns. But I felt like Harris was building up to something. There was a fair amount of scheming, some planning, a dash of foreshadowing…

Then it was over.

It wasn’t bad, exactly, but it didn’t quite leave me lying in bed, smoking a cigarette.

smoking gif

So. Lots of good, lots of head-scratching, and a whole hell of a lot of Loki.

You can find The Gospel of Loki for yourself right here, my friends.

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