Sunday, May 18, 2014


With the popularity of Tom Hiddleston, in the various movies put out by Marvel and Disney, I'm surprised that we haven't gotten a sudden flood of Norse mythology related fiction. However, one of the benefits of putting some distance between herself and The Avenger's dastardly foe is that when Joanne Harris finally DID decide to publish Gospel of Loki, what resulted was a fun, quirky, and surprisingly empathetic tale from the perspective of the infamous trickster god.  

As the title implies, Gospel of Loki consists of the origin stories and fables from the Sagas of Norse mythology as told from the perspective of Loki, who is normally cast as the villain of the tale. The book covers everything from the creation of the Nine Realms and the genesis of magic, all the way to the apocalyptic events of Ragnarok. Though billed as an epic fantasy, Gospel of Loki often comes off as a twisted take on Aesop's Fables. The various tales are broken up into "Lessons" with titles like, "never trust an oracle", where Loki imparts an autobiographical take on the events complete with concluding morals. You might think that the perspective shift would result in Loki portraying himself as a misunderstood champion of justice, wrongly accused, but Loki is surprisingly honest (as honest as one born from Chaos and Wildfire can be, anyway), if unrepentant about his actions. "I'm chaos incarnate. What did you expect?" is largely the attitude brought forth for his mischief, but despite this, this version of Loki is a surprisingly likeable guy.  

Harris paints a picture of a lonely man, roped into a family who despises him, who, realizing that he will never be accepted, eventually grows bitter of their using him as a tool whenever convenient, and begins to plot the downfall of those who manipulated him by giving them a taste of their own medicine. Loki grows from reluctant pseudo-slave, to grudgingly accepting father and husband, to aspiring friend, then spirals downward into a burning hatred born of rejection (an emotion I'm sure readers can at least envision, if not empathize with). The book comes off as surprisingly greek in its tragic nature, and Harris does a GREAT job of roping readers into cheering for the bad boy, even while choosing not to fully excuse his actions.  

This fantasy only reaches epic tier in its third act as the Nine Realms, split into factions representing Order and Chaos, prepare for the war to end all wars (and all things). Harris' decision to keep relatively close to the source material, while anchoring it to such a relatable character provides a powerful engine for dramatic build-up to this final, cataclysmic confrontation. This is especially impressive given that, for those knowledgeable of Norse mythos, the ending is spoiled from page one. Despite that, I found myself desperately wishing for the Trickster god to pull one more rabbit out of his hat, and if mythological fantasy is your thing, you will be too.

Vincent Smith is a taoist, aspiring writer, and dyed-in-the-wool psychology geek at the University of Guelph. You can find his writing on video games, comics, movies, and all things geek over at The Rogue's Gallery. Check out his FB page, Vincent Smith: Writer, Scholar, Gentleman, for more musings from the dark corners of the internet. Plus the occasional cat photo.

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