July 9, 2015

6/22/15 - A Book With Nonhuman Characters

I admit it. I am a Loki fan. But wait, hear me out - before you peg me as a simple crying fangirl (which is hardly the whole truth), let me regale you with the hipster chorus of the centuries: I liked him before he was cool. Or at least before he was Tom Hiddleston (sigh of appreciation); I think Loki has always been cool at the mythological table in the reading cafeteria.

Anyway, a handful of years back, I was way into Norse mythology. I have a ton of books - both Eddas, Padraic Colum's retellings, Kevin Crossley-Holland's retellings, Roger Green's retellings... I was a fan. If there were any story that could make me laugh every time I read it, it was Thrym's Wedding. (Bruce Coville, Thor's Wedding Day. I have it.) I also read Runemarks, which is not a novelization of the web game, but Joanne Harris's middle-grade (but still hefty) story about the Norse gods in the present day. At least, I think it's present-day. Present-ish? Old but not ancient times? Anyway. Harris wrote Loki as a significant side character in that, and, as I recall, he was pretty brilliant.

So I was excited when I found out that Harris had a new, adult project coming out that focused primarily on the legendary trickster. With gods and strange Chaos-demons as the main characters, it well fit the category of A Book With Nonhuman Characters.

(If you can, get the first edition cover; it's much nicer than the one I got here in America at the library.)

As I said in the last review, expectation is a significant mood-killer when you're reading something that you've been dying to get your hands on (for over a year, in this particular instance). With The Gospel of Loki, I was expecting something along the lines of Runemarks - a new take on an old tale, a cool new adventure for the old gods. Something unexpected for my Loki passion to chew on for a while.
My experience with Norse retellings, however, came back to bite me. Harris retells the stories of the Norse pantheon from Loki's point of view... with almost no alterations. There is, of course, Loki's larger-than-life personality to account for it, and the look into his brain does cast some small original light onto the events. But, at the end of each chapter, it's just the stories that the Eddas have told and that the others have copied.

Don't get me wrong - Harris can write. And her Loki voice is nothing if not consistent, and consistently tricksterly. There's an amusing blend of archaic and modern, which I know grated on some Goodreads reviewers, but which I found suitable for a god telling his story in the modern day. The book was hardly a pain to read; I enjoyed it, sometimes quite a lot. (I still laughed at Harris's version of Thrym's Wedding.)

But it's a small book, not even 300 pages, and they're almost all dedicated to retellings. 

What I did appreciate was the ending, even if it did skim more than I would have liked. It finally, finally gets at Loki's psyche, the emotions behind his actions during Ragnarok. It was new, it was unique! And then the real ending - wow. That was a good ending, and more than made up for the lack of real punch in the previous chapters.

So, all in all, it's a recommendation. If you're for Norse mythology, have at it! If you're not so much for Norse mythology but want to attempt it, have at it; this is not the worst place to start. If you love Loki, have at it! Really, just have at it. Don't set your originality hopes too high, but otherwise, have at it.

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