Melvin Burgess’ Loki is a grown-up take on Norse mythology. This Loki is a sassy, dirty-talking god who is determined to tell his own story. Part fictional autobiography, part oral story-telling in written form. In that, it is somewhere in between a traditional novel and a compendium of stories. Burgess has been writing for a YA audience for decades, but this is his first foray into writing for an adult audience – and it is an ambitious one. I feel that you can read Loki both from start to finish and consider it one story, or pick it up again and again, reading a bit at a time and taking out individual stories.
There is no shortage of fictional versions of the trickster god these days. Just within the last few years we’ve had Marvel’s TV show, Neil Gaiman’s Norse Mythology and even Louie Stowell’s middle grade Loki. So why pick up Melvin Burgess’s Loki over all of these others? Well, given that you’re reading this on Grimdark Magazine, I’m assuming that you enjoy a good dose of grimdark in your reading. And this is the most grimdark take on Norse mythology I’ve read. Not just in the way that the characters in the story are morally murky and keep betraying each other – that is a given considering the subject material. But I found that the tone and writing style Burgess used in Loki was also very similar to that of modern grimdark fantasy and I believe that this will resonate well with readers of the genre despite its more mythological grounding.
I found it compelling and funny – truly hilarious – at times. Mythology has a lot of humour to it, and Burgess makes the most of those elements. His Loki doesn’t feel like a powerful god, but rather like a flawed being trying to make the most out of the situations and life he has in front of him. His Aesir and Vanir are complicated and complex families. And Burgess leans into the queer elements present in the traditional stories and expands on them, makes them a focus of his retelling. While this isn’t a perfect book, it is one that I really enjoyed. It is a fresh take on Norse mythology and one that I expect will resonate well with readers of this site. Loki can be seen to have some structural weaknesses as a whole through its close first person narration over a long period of time, which made it feel more loosely connected than a traditional plot, though it felt very intentional on the author’s part. I am mainly flagging it here for readers who may not care for experimental story-telling as much – though I found it did work well here. Loki charms his way into readers’ hearts again and again, whether they want him to or not.