Gollancz, out now
The Ultimate Unreliable Narrator unspools his tale of life, love and lies…
Joanne Harris’ epic tale sets out its stall from the start. This isn’t history as Odin the All-Father would like everyone to believe things happened (i.e. “his story”); this is “mystery” – “my story”… and the me in question is a certain trickster who has come to prominence in recent times.
Let’s get this out the way immediately – this is not the character from the Marvel version of Asgard. This is the Loki of the sagas, a trickster who can’t help being tricky – not because he wants power, but because it’s simply the way he is. Across the course of the story he becomes aware of prophecies and elements of predestination – but that doesn’t mean that he has to follow them. He’s vain, self-obsessed, egotistical – and you can’t help but like him.
This isn’t a book of “thee”s and “thou”s – this is Loki as he would be if the sagas were being written today. We follow him from his recruitment from Chaos by Odin through to the final battles, usually adhering to the tale as relayed in the older texts, but occasionally extrapolating some further detail, or playing with the timeline – after all, the last person you’d expect consistency from is Loki!
Like many such outsider characters, you sense that there’s a desire to be part of the society which often turns its back on him, and by the end you’re left wondering whether they bring about their own destruction through their treatment of him. He’s occasionally out of his depth but somehow manages to come up, if not smelling of roses, then certainly of what they’re grown in!
We’ve had a number of these stories in recent times with the gods reimagined for a 21st century audience, but while most authors have used the tropes from the old tales, they have tried to reinvent the characters in a way that would fit modern archetypes. Unlike them Joanne Harris has reinvigorated the old sagas – and produced a fascinating book.
Verdict: Funny, sometimes poignant and always entertaining – don’t miss Loki’s lessons on life. 9/10