REVIEW: Testament of Loki – Joanne M. Harris (Runemarks #6)

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Author: Joanne M. Harris (website / twitter)

UK Publisher: Gollancz

Genre: Fantasy

Buy Now: ebook | hardcover

The first writing I got to read from Joanne Harris was A Pocket Full of Crows, which I was lucky enough to get a chance to check the page proofs for whilst I was interning at Gollancz. It was a very atmospheric, very pretty book, but sadly my internship ended before I got a chance to finish reading it. So when I swung by to visit and there were proof copies of Testament of Loki , I naturally didn’t refuse the offer to take one with me. I had ogled others in this series whilst I had been there over the summer – the stained-glass cover designs are stunning.

Whilst this is the sixth in the series, I did not feel like I needed to have read the former volumes to be able to pick this up and enjoy it. A rudimentary understanding of Norse mythology helped a little, from my youthful mythological-focused reading habits, but even without that I think the relevant information is there that you could enjoy the story.

This book kicks in after Ragnorok, after Asgard has fallen, and the gods have found themselves trapped in the godly equivalent of hell. Loki, strapped to a rock with Jormungand spitting poison on him, is naturally looking for a way out of the situation. He finds it through the world of Dream, which gives him access to a video game called Asgard! He is able to use the video game to cross over into the real world, and freedom. Except, he is in the body of a teenage girl, and she is still in there with him, and not entirely happy with the development.

I was initially cagey about the set-up, Loki and Jumps, his host, having conversations within one body, sharing memories and feelings. It felt a little clunky, but I think also part of that was Loki getting to know the modern world. That sort of thing always seems clunky (“what’s this?” “a fridge” “A MAGIC BOX OF FOOD”), and is hard to do well in any medium nowadays. As the story drew on, the premise bothered me less, and I began to enjoy their interactions.

The set up also meant there were two simultaneous storylines – Loki working with Odin (who is himself in the body of another teenager) and Thor (who is in the body of a small white dog) to find a long term solution to their situation so they aren’t sharing bodies forever; and the ongoing mystery of Jumps and how she came to be, neurotic, self-harming and with an eating disorder. Unfortunately, the story focuses more on the former than on the latter. This makes sense, as it is what drives the plot forwards, however it does mean that Jumps’ psychological state is somewhat glossed over as Loki rampages through her mind like a juggernaut, and takes some liberties with what she eats and how she dresses. There is one moment where they have a standoff after Jumps resorts to cutting in retaliation for Loki’s behaviour, but after that she seems to embrace her new approach to life. Loki shows her how nice it feels to eat what she likes, wear what she likes, date who she likes – also essentially outing her without her permission – but after this one reaction, Jumps happily embraces this.

Whilst I understand that much more resistance from her would have slowed the plot, and made it difficult to develop the narrative further, Jumps strikes me as a character who has some quite intense psychological problems, and I do feel like this experience would be extremely violating for her. She has an eating disorder, and finds her body under the control of someone else, who proceeds to gorge on junk food – even that one aspect of things seems like it would be extremely traumatic, and probably cause some damage to any progress she had made to recovery.  It feels like the sort of thing that would require more than one heartfelt conversation and shared emotions to overcome. Whilst the lack of respect for Jumps’ preferences fits with the idea of Loki, selfish and chaotic, this Loki is shown to soften as he spends time with Jumps, so it jarred a little for me.

That said, the book is an easy read, and despite all the body swapping it doesn’t get too convoluted to follow. Personally, I think I preferred A Pocketful of Crows to this, but I would happily recommend it for people looking for a light fantasy, and if you are a fan of Norse mythology. I thought the approach to Sleipnir was particularly fun, and reading around about the other books in the series, it appears to link in nicely with the recurring idea of runemarks and the village of Malbry.

Briefly:

  • A light, easy fantasy read, using Norse mythology as a web onto which to plot some body-sharing, world-jumping antics.
  • Harris clearly knows her stuff and is comfortable in the world she has created around this premise, so she is able to explain it easily without becoming too bogged down in details which are extraneous to understanding.
  • Whilst this is the most recent book in a series, it can be read without having read the previous five volumes. It almost reads as a standalone, so I expect the others do as well, and perhaps could be read in any order.
  • I would have felt more comfortable with more exploration of the psychological impact of body-sharing on an already troubled teenager, however I can see that wasn’t what the book was about, and would have slowed the progress of an otherwise very quick plot.

Rating: 4/5 – it was fun, and well written, but it didn’t quite tick all my boxes. This wasn’t necessarily a fault of the book, and is perhaps just a case of different strokes for different folks.

 

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