Tuesday, October 21, 2014

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

Before I can adequately explain why and how this book is awesome, we need to take a step back and look at the subject matter. As in, Loki, the Norse god of trickery and treachery.
Loki is currently going through a moment of huge popularity, due to the "Thor" movies in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. And with good reason. Tom Hiddleston does a wonderful job with the role. However, there is one problem with his character, on a writing level: he is very clearly not to be trusted, and when the other characters keep trusting him and falling for his schemes, they look like total idiots. 
And, if you think about, that's the hardest part of writing Loki right: he's supposed to be a skilled manipulator, to win all his battles by treachery, but he has a reputation as someone untrustworthy, so his opponents ought to be expecting a trick, unless they're a bunch of incompetent goons. 
How do you reconcile Loki manipulating everyone around him with his adversaries being intelligent? Is it even possible?
Harris does it and does it very well. The other characters don't trust Loki at all. In fact, they're more than ready to accuse him of any trouble ( and more often than not they're right). He still manages to trick them, not because he simply tells a lie and they believe him, but because he thinks outside the box, so that while they are expecting him to try something, they never are looking out for the right thing. 
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. 
Loki does also manage to be a skilled liar. He accomplishes this by being mostly truthful, by twisting the facts so that the he is painted in the most flattering light possible. He admits his faults, but his quick to shift most of the blame onto someone else.
He is a good manipulator, and this is evidenced not only by his ability to manipulate the other characters, but by his ability to manipulate the reader.  
Despite the fact that most of his actions are questionable as best and awful as worst. All those of you who know Norse mythology know what he's responsible for (I won't spoil it for those of you who don't, but suffice to say this: it's really, really bad).
All the same, he succeeds in making himself sympathetic. I truly pitied him for the things he was put through. He is depicted as someone who used to have a kind of innocence to him, for all his chaotic nature, until the people who were supposed to be his friends stripped it from him. 
Till then, I bided my time, and smiled as sweetly as my scarred lips would allow, until the day I would take my revenge and bring the gods down, one by one.
At the same time, it's Loki who's telling the story, he's casting himself in the role of the victim, and the reader never finds out how much of it is true. 
The other characters are not as well fleshed-out as Loki is, but they still manage to be complex and layered, especially Odin. I also liked this novel's interpretation of Sigyn, Loki's faithful wife, which was quite unlike anything I've ever seen before.
One thing I didn't like in how one of the myths in particular was handled. I won't spoil it, but Odin does something really awful to Loki. I was really looking forward to that story, because I expected it to have huge consequences on Loki's character development. And the build-up to it was actually handled really well. And then it happened and then it was never mentioned again.    
The dialogues sometimes contain instances of modern speech, which I don't like, since it's set in a medieval-like world. However, the prose is gorgeous most of the time, especially in the first few chapters, which contain some great paragraphs.  
"Sticks and the stones may break my bones", as they say in the Middle Worlds, but with the right words you can build a world and make yourself king of it. King, or even god - which brings us back to the Old Man; that master storyteller; keeper of runes; lord of poetry; scribe of First and Last Times. Creationists would have us believe that every word of his story is true. But "poetic licence" was always the Old Man's middle name. Of course, he has a lot of names. So do I. And because this isn't history. but mystery - my story - let's start with me for a change. 
The novel retells Norse mythology, which I am quite familiar with, so there aren't any unexpected twists, at least not for me. The way they are retold, however, is really entertaining, so it's definitely recommended even if you're a Norse mythology expert.
If you're not familiar with the original myths, then it's recommended for you too, this can definitely be a way to get into them.
In short, I think you, all of you, should read it.

1 comment:

  1. I really need to read is, I am a huge fan of german mythology like you! Great review by the way!

    Irene @ www.icecoldpassion.com