It’s hard to approach any kind of Norse myth these days without an overlay of Marvel. So I had several moments of cognitive dissonance reading The Gospel of Loki, Joanne Harris’s retelling of the story of Ragnarok from the perspective of Loki. He was always going to be Tom Hiddleston in my head, however many times his red hair is described.
I always love a trickster, so a novel about the tricksiest trickster god of them all was always going to be a must-read. Stories where charm and intelligence win out over brute force appeal to me, particularly when delivered with wit and verve. And Loki is certainly a charming and funny narrator, if a little full of himself at times.
This reinterpretation of Norse myth is an interesting piece, if a bit of a mixed bag. The first half of the novel is frustratingly episodic. We canter through Loki’s early time in Asgard, with a series of escapades establishing his notoriety and fraught relationships with the other gods of Asgard. At times this felt rather formulaic, as if Harris was going through the motions of covering all of the Loki stories, rather than using them to explore the character and his relationships with the others.
The novel picks up tremendously in the second half, however. It starts to explore the hubris of both Odin and Loki in a really interesting way. Odin is arrogant enough to think he can bind Loki and avert the end of days. Loki’s pride is such that he is unable to swallow repeated insult and mistreatment, even if it means that he must knowingly work towards his own destruction and that of the whole of the Nine Worlds. The tragedy of the novel is that neither has the courage or humility to admit to how they are being manipulated by others.
Harris glosses this tragic bromance with a sense of inevitability. Odin has carved out a period in which a civilisation can flourish, but that must always come to an end in a cycle of renewal and rebirth. She nods towards the commonality of basic mythic stories with the parallels between Loki and Lucifer: both light-bringers, both challengers of order, and both bringers of a catastrophic end of days.
I think I would prefer a novel that worked a bit more as a coherent whole, with the other characters and the relationships between them more fully explored. But that would have been at the expense of a lightness of touch and easy readability.
Goodreads rating: 3*