(2018) Joanne M. Harris, Gollancz, £14.99, hrdbk, vi + 295pp, ISBN 978-1-473-20239-9
This is the fourth book by Joanne Harris concerning Norse gods. Runemarks and its sequel Runelight were aimed at the joint child/adult audience and she has hinted there may be further stories in this series. Turning to adult fantasy but sticking with the same characters (we all know who they are) and what sounds like a similar background storyline, she wrote The Gospel of Loki which tells of the rise and fall of the Norse gods through the eyes of Loki, the Trickster. Following on from that she has now written The Testament of Loki. I have not read any of the others but I found this novel stood on its own and anything I needed to know from the earlier story(s) was seamlessly included without effort. Incidentally, Joanne Harris is the author of Chocolat which was Whitbred-shortlisted and also became an Oscar-nominated film.
The story is not merely told in the first person by Loki but he talks straight to you, the reader. This means you get his insights and opinions and, of course, he is the unfortunate victim of everybody else - believe me, he told me so. As the story opens Asgard has fallen and Loki is imprisoned for all eternity in the Black Fortress of Netherworld, where he is chained to a rock whilst the serpent Jormungand dribbles venom on him. But Loki is a master of the realm of Dream - and that includes the Internet - so escape is not only possible but he achieves it.
First he finds himself in Agard!TM, a computer game. From there he escapes into the real world and into the body of one of the players, a teenage girl who calls herself Jumps. After some initial discussion between them she realises the truth, she has not been slipped something dubious but that Loki is real and is inside her, so they go to see her school friend Evan as he is sure to know what to do. The trouble with that idea is that Loki is not the only one who has figured out how to escape, Evan is host to Odin!
As Loki and Jump try to adjust to their situation, to work out how to live together, things do not exactly go well. Old enemies from the realm of Asgard also appear in our world and threaten them with the continuation of old battles and vengeances so the two of them, still sharing the one body, are forced into a roller coaster of plots and adventures. Loki is, of course (he assures us), honest throughout but then, as he reminds us, he is the Trickster and honesty can be interpreted in many ways. To tell you more would spoil the story but remember that Odin also has his own intentions and his word is equally interpretable.
I found this a joy to read. It is inventive and humorous. Loki is certainly a good guide to Asgard and all its friends and enemies, and his approach to everything on this and other worlds was most ‘enlightening’. I really must read The Gospel of Loki and I look forward to his next adventure - they should both be fun. And as for Jumps, well, Loki might be the Trickster but he does all he can to protect her and ensure she comes out of the whole thing intact, or as intact as one can be after adventuring with Loki!
As an aside, being a lover of Marvel movies and the Thor ones, I could not stop myself picturing Loki in the form of Tom Hiddleston and the Loki of this story is sufficiently similar for this not to be a problem. Indeed, if they were to make a movie of this book I know who my choice would be for the title role. Likewise for Anthony Hopkins as Odin, though the Thor of this story is definitely not Chris Hemsworth.
See also Karen's review of The Testament of Loki.
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