Joanne Harris’ Gospel of Loki is a more-or-less faithful account of the major Norse myths, from the frankly weird creation story involving a primal cow called Audhumbla, to the last battle of Ragnarok. The difference is that here, the stories are all seen through a being usually viewed as the villain of the piece: the Trickster God Loki.
Referring to himself as “Yours truly, your humble narrator, otherwise known as the Trickster, the Father of Lies, Loki, Lucky, Wildfire, Dogstar and various other epithets, not all of them flattering”, Loki declares himself fed up with how he’s portrayed in Odin’s “Authorised Version” of the myths, which cast him in a “rather unflattering light”.
So he sets out to tell his own story: the Lokabrenna, the Gospel of Loki, the moral of which basically boils down to “don’t trust anybody”.
Loki is at turns sarcastic, arrogant, selfish, conniving and full of morose self-pity and emotions even he cannot understand as he spins his yarn, portraying himself as a tragic hero and the real catalyst behind practically every event of importance at Asgard. Harris creates a brilliantly witty and dryly comic figure in her Loki, the ultimate unreliable narrator.
Pulled from Chaos by Odin and used as Asgard’s special agent (with plausible deniability built in), Loki goes from a wild-eyed and ultimately well-intentioned mischief-maker to an angry, bitter enemy of the Aesir, with a “ball of barbed wire” in his heart.
Loki is not a likeable character, by any means. His schemes often hurt innocent people and he seems indifferent to anyone’s suffering but his own. Yet Harris somehow manages to make the reader like him despite (or because of) his utter amorality.
To be fair, none of the other gods are shown as being particularly likeable either. Odin is just as scheming as Loki, Thor is brash and boorish, Freya is vain and so on. In fact, this is one of the things I love about this book: the Aesir and Vanir, and all the supporting cast of frost giants, dwarves, humans and others are flawed characters. There is no clear “good” or “evil” and by the time you get to Ragnarok at the end of the book, I honestly had no idea whose side I was meant to be on, if anyone’s.
I don’t want to give much away, but I definitely recommend The Gospel of Loki to anyone with even a passing interest in Norse mythology. Darkly comic, it speeds along at a brisk pace and really engages the reader in Loki’s version of events.
For Norse pagans and Heathens, this book can be seen as another version of the myths from the Eddas, a modern take on the old tales which makes them vivid and vital once again, and brings them to life for a new audience. And whatever your views on Loki himself, that’s got to be a good thing!