Rating: ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆
Date read: January 13 to 19, 2019
Location: O’Hare International Airport
If this book were to have a tagline, it should be sympathy for the devil because this is Loki’s story and you can’t help but feel for him. Or at least I did. The story unfolds with snide first-person narration from Loki’s caustic point of view, beginning from the moment Odin pulled him from Chaos to the moment he might or might not have brought down Asgard. (Is that too spoilery? I can never tell, especially when it comes to reviewing retellings of well known mythology…)
Before I get into it, I just wanted to say that this book has the most hilarious dramatis personæ list I’ve ever seen. If you don’t mind spoilers or are well versed in Norse mythology, check it out at any online bookstore.
For a moment I was disoriented. Too many sensations, all of them new, enveloped my new Aspect. I could see colours; I could smell sulphur; I could feel the snow in the air and see the face of the man before me, cloaked in glam from head to foot. I could have chosen any form: that of an animal, or a bird, or just a simple trail of fire. But, as it happened, I’d assumed the form with which you may be familiar; that of a young man with red hair and a certain je ne sais quoi.
Normally, I don’t enjoy showy, performative fiction and I rarely enjoy snide, caustic POV characters or that style of narration, save for Discworld and the Samuel Johnson series. So it took me over half the book to get used to Loki’s voice, and it took a little more before I began to understand him, his burning rage, and his war path. Near the end, though, I was with him all the way–his reasons for bringing down Asgard made sense, and so shoot me, I approved of his savagery.
He left the hall with the dignified walk of a man with a serious case of piles and I knew I’d made an enemy. Some people would have laughed it off, but not Heimdall. From that day on till the End of the Worlds, nothing would ever make him forget that first humiliation. Not that I wanted to be friends. Friendship is overrated. Who needs friends when you can have the certitudes of hostility? You know where you stand with an enemy. You know he won’t betray you. It’s the ones who claim to be your friends that you need to beware of.
Not being familiar with Norse mythology or Marvel’s Thor franchise, I was able to read this book like any other fictional retelling with a modern spin. That is, I had very few preconceived notions and was able to get on with the writing just fine, in spite of not really liking the narration in the beginning. I have a feeling, if you know Norse mythology or are a fan of Loki (whether from the Thor movies or American Gods or somewhere else), the first third of this book would probably bore you with its account/rehashing of Asgard’s and Odin’s history and the creation of the nine worlds, all told in Loki’s particular style with many amusing asides where he shares what he really thinks of a certain god or goddess and their purpose in Asgard. What he really thinks of Thor are, by far, my favorite moments in the book.
There are races that hate each other on sight – mongoose and snake; cat and dog – and though I didn’t know much of the Worlds, I guessed that the straightforward, muscular type would be the natural enemy of the lithe and devious type who thinks with his head and not his fists.
One thing that gave me pause when I started reading was Loki’s knack for slipping in anachronisms. One moment he would be talking about journeying to the Land of the Dead, and the next he would make a comment about teenagers these days–“you know how they are…” Descriptions of peasant folk and their country farms, and then cars and three-piece suits and so shoot me and je ne sais quoi. I get that the purpose is to show Loki as an immortal who exists outside of our reality, but slipping modern inventions/speech into ancient settings will never not be jarring to me.
That aside, what I like best about Loki’s take on Norse mythology is his biting sense of humor and shameless dishonesty–“it’s the chaos in me.” I started out reading this book on my own, but had to switch to the audio when I went out of town for a few days, and it was a good thing I had to switch because the audio is a lot of fun. Allan Corduner is a talented narrator and, in my opinion, has a great handle on the character of Loki as presented in this book. He adds so much to the listening experience that I think I started to feel for Loki because of his voice and narration style. This is one of those rare instances where I think the audio narrator enhances the prose.
There were a few compensations to having corporeal Aspect. Food (jam tarts were my favourites); drink (mostly wine and mead); setting things on fire; sex (although I was still extremely confused by all the taboos surrounding this – no animals, no siblings, no men, no married women, no demons – frankly, it was amazing to me that anyone had sex at all, with so many rules against it).
Well, don’t blame me for being attractive. Demons are, for the most part. Besides, it wasn’t as if the competition was especially tough. Sweaty, hairy warlords with no polish and no address, whose idea of a good time was to kill a few giants, wrestle a snake and then eat an ox and six suckling pigs without even taking a shower first, whilst belching a popular folk song. Of course the ladies gave me the eye. A bad boy is always appealing, and I’d always had a silver tongue.
my charm, which ran more to witty conversation than merely hitting things, a welcome change in Testosterone Central.
So shoot me. Turns out I’m not naturally monogamous.
In his defense, Loki didn’t start out as a pain in the ass who’s sole purpose was to bring Asgard to its knees. Quite the contrary. When Odin first brought him to Asgard, Loki did his best to try to fit in with “the family,” but after several disastrous attempts, he just couldn’t–it was the chaos in him, forever setting him apart. Also, it didn’t help matters much when none of them wanted to reach out to him or willingly accepted him (and his chaotic ways) into the family. After many disputes and being treated like an outsider even though he’s saved (and disrupted) their lives plenty of times, he finally had enough of them, Odin included. So he stealthily set out to bring down all of Asgard for all the pain he suffered because of them, but little did he know that that was part of a prophecy all along.
Once Loki put his mind to planning and carrying out his revenge, the book became a quick read for me, and much to my surprise, there’s some conflicting complexity to Loki’s characterization later in the book. He became less like his flighty former self at the start of the book and more like what an embattled immortal should be. I really like this change in him–it made the read a lot more interesting–and I’m glad that the whole book isn’t about Loki being a witty, clever trickster outwitting everyone and everything.
This is my first time reading Joanne Harris and certainly not the last. Looking forward to the next book of Loki.
Because it all has to end, of course. Everything dies – even Worlds; even gods; even Your Humble Narrator. From the moment the Worlds came to life, Ragnarók, the End of All Things, was written into every living cell in runes more complex than any we know. Life and Death in one package – with Order and Chaos acting not as two forces in opposition but as a single cosmic force too vast for us to comprehend.