The Testament of Loki by Joanne M Harris
Publisher - Gollancz
Published - Out Now
Price - £14.99 hardback
Ragnarok was the End of Worlds…. Asgard fell, centuries ago, and the old gods have been defeated. Some are dead while others have been consigned to eternal torment in the netherworld – among them, the legendary trickster, Loki. A god who betrayed every side and still lost everything, who has lain forgotten as time passed, and the world of humans moved on to new beliefs, new idols and new deities…
But now mankind dreams of the Norse gods once again, the river Dream is but a snow’s throw from their dark prison, and Loki is the first to escape into a new reality.
The first, but not the only one to. Other, darker things have escaped with him, who seek to destroy everything that he covets. If he is to reclaim what has been lost. Loki will need allies, a plan and plenty of tricks…
A few years ago, Joanne M Harris did a superb retelling of the major Norse myths with a twist – they were all told from Loki’s side of the story. The views of the Trickster gave some humanity and humour as well as making you see Thor as well…rather thick. However, at the end the End happened, and Loki ended up tormented by a huge poisonous snake that happens to be his child for eternal torment so now it asks the question – what happens next? The answer is complex but ultimately boils down to a story placing the Gods into the modern world that is as fabulous as Loki themselves.
We resume the story in a dungeon of Chaos where Loki has started to notice the inner space known as Dream that links to other worlds. Being naturally cunning a plan develops over centuries and with a hint that out there is a world that still remembers the Norse gods he arrives in 2018 England. Initially in a computer game (wearing strange headwear) known as Asgard!! ™ but swiftly escapes into Jumps a 17-year-old student getting ready for her exams. Loki suddenly finds the world alluring and he has a lot to get catching up on.
This story reminds me a lot of Loki itself as it’s got many sides to it. Loki inside the body of a teenage girl allows for plenty of humour as our favourite god discovers Pizza, The Book of Face and is horrified that many find Thor the best God. The one person you don’t want in charge of your body on exam day is Loki but equally just as this appears to be a fish out of water story you’ll notice Jumps has secrets – incredibly reserved and doing everything she can to fade into the background. It touches upon serious issues such as body image and relationships that allows a contrast with the hedonist god and watching how these two personalities fight and ultimately understand each other is the both the entertaining and emotional core of the book -neither will be quite the same afterwards. Its interesting that Norse gods used to sexuality and disabilities seem the least impacted by those things many in the modern world are swiftest to criticise.
The story also moves into epic fantasy as Loki uncovers more Gods hiding in the modern world. Obviously after enabling Ragnarok he is not flavour of the month, but it is recognised the half demon half god has certain advantages in planning that means he is forced to investigate where the ancient powers known as the Runes are and this means Loki and by necessity Jumps are exposed to what is going on underneath the ‘real’ world. This points to a much larger story that Loki will become a key part in enabling.
Harris continues to narrate the tale in Loki’s voice and that is just as delicious as in the previous entry in the series. Loki is sarcastic, boastful and on rare occasions honest about how he is feeling. As the reader you must work our though when the truth may be getting told and he can sometimes indeed be the unreliable narrator (what did you expect!). This time we see the impact though of Ragnarok has had an impact on him as he has lost his body and his power which puts him in a place where he is able to learn and even empathise with Jumps who also seems to be the outsider in her group. Watching his character twist and turn is an absolute delight.
Another highlight is how Harris adapts the settings moving from the strange psychic dungeons of Chaos where pain is lashed out daily; to the quiet streets of London where she easily portrays the awkwardness of having dinner with your family when you’re the teenager they want to control or the schoolyard where the popular kids want to make you feel a thousand times smaller than you are. Bouncing from the fantastical to the domestic is performed really smoothly and there is also a reminder that in the Norse gods feuding, arguments and hunts for status were a key aspect of the tales and perhaps it’s the God’s humanity that means they’ve stayed around in our culture for much longer than you would expect.
Overall the story itself makes a fitting new chapter in the adventures of our exiled Asgardians as there is a battle for power between opposing forces based around desire and lust for power. Captivating and going to bring both a smile to your face as well as make you remember what it was like to be young again I think this is a book you need to read…ideally with pizza.