REVIEW: Gospel of Loki by Joanne M. Harris

 The Gospel of Loki cover art by Andreas Preis


Never trust a ruminant…



Usually when I buy books, it is in one of two ways. The first is that I have been searching for a specific book for some time, see it in a bookshop and buy it. The second is that I browse through a bookshop, find a book I like the look of, read the first few pages and walk away. Then, next time I am in a bookshop, I find the same book, read another few pages, scrabble about in my wallet to see if I can afford it and so on until I eventually buy it or discard the idea.

With Gospel of Loki, I walked into my local bookshop, saw the book and felt butterflies in my stomach; I absolutely had to own that book. So I bought it, cuddled it all the way home and read it over two days. It was something of a whirlwind love affair that, unfortunately, left me feeling a little unsatisfied at the end.

Anyone reading my blog will have noticed that I love the Norse Myths-I am absolutely not a scholar, but I loved them as a child and have continued to read various versions from Kevin Crossley-Holland’s translations to illustrated, child friendly collections, and Loki has always been one of my favourite figures. So perhaps I was simply expecting too much from this book. Perhaps there was no way that it could possibly have lived up to my expectations of it. It was a bit of a shame.

For a start there was some confusion over whether or not it was connected to Runemarks and Runelights, Ms. Harris’ previous forays into Norse mythology. It did not seem to be, but felt a little flat on its own. In the end, I read it as a prequel to them despite this creating significant continuity errors (as well as some surprising links), as it made the book feel more fleshed out somehow. I’m not sure if this is the author’s intention.

It was certainly a fun read. I know I woke up some people by laughing very loudly late at night because I was reading this book. The narrator (being the Father of Lies himself) has a fast, sharp wit that I found delightful, and an absolute disregard for rules of any kind (which could have been explored more). The story was the tale of Asgard, from birth to death, and the mass of the problem lies here; I know this story. For me, a lot of the book’s appeal rested on seeing it from a new angle, and half the time all that happened was a quick run-down of events with almost no differences.

When it did deliver, it did so gloriously. Loki’s description of how it felt to have his lips sewn together, for example, was brutal. His opinions of Skadi were fantastic. As the book progressed, the increasingly embittered feelings of Loki toward the Gods, described as a snarl of barbed wire, bled into the writing style.

Sometimes, the narrator lied to us. Things were omitted, or left purposefully vague, and whenever I figured out that the narrator had, in fact, been purposefully misleading me, I could almost see this red-headed figure smirking at me as if to say: ‘got you’.

However, there simply weren’t enough of those moments. I was kept going by the details (the chapter headings, for example) and an optimistic belief that it would get better. It did not. There just wasn’t enough; not enough joy, not enough glee, not enough rage. On the surface, it was an interesting account, but the substance below the veneer was only glimpsed, and these glimpses simply made things more frustrating because I wanted the whole book to be that good, and it wasn’t. It felt breezy in a way that absolutely did not suit the character of the Loki or the subject matter.

There were some deft turns of phrase and imagery that stuck, and a few interesting theories about character motivation. Very early on, Ms. Harris introduces the idea that all of Loki’s actions stem from his desire to return to his original state of primordial chaos/grace; it’s a fascinating, wonderful concept, and I was disappointed that Ms. Harris did not develop it more. By the end of the book I felt a little like Loki, ironically muttering ‘Let there be light’ in the full knowledge that there is nothing left to come.

Personally I think that Ms. Harris allowed herself to be overly constrained by her source material; all the best moments where when she deviated from it. Gospel of Loki had flashes of genius, but only flashes. I will still read new Joanne Harris books, because she is a good writer venturing into new territory (adult fantasy) and I think that she may well be able to develop those flashes of genius into something more consistent. Unfortunately, this has not happened yet.


On an unrelated note, I would be really interested in reading fantasy based around less-known Norse figures-there are several goddesses and gods whose stories have been entirely lost, and only their names remain; Forsetti, son of Baldur and Nanna, Sjofn and Lofn, goddesses of forbidden love, Eir of healing to name a few.


Link to my review of Runemarks by Joanne Harris


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