Since loving Joanne M. Harris’ refreshing twist on Norse mythology in The Gospel of Loki, back in 2016, I have long been anticipating reading more, and yet Runemarks – Harris’ 2007 young adult novel, also inspired by Norse mythology and folklore – has languished on my Kindle for several years! Shame on you, Jessica, shame! However, I finally remembered it and pulled it out of the deep recesses of my To-Be-Read folder and read it in July.
It all begins five hundred years after the end of the world – at 7 o’clock on a Monday morning, to be precise – when Maddy Smith discovers goblins in the cellar again… Not that anyone would admit it was goblins. In the new world, order rules: chaos, the old gods and magic were all supposedly vanquished. But Maddy knows better and the ‘ruinmark’ on her palm testifies to it – it makes the other villagers shun her (except when they have an ‘unnameable’ problem in the cellar to be dealt with). Her only friend is the mysterious traveller, One-Eye, who – with his own mark – is also an outsider and is secretly teaching her the forbidden magic.
Being neither particularly ‘good’ or pretty, Maddy is a disappointment to her father. Instead she is a feisty, little dreamer, with a quick mind and eagerness to learn, who I instantly loved! Even though she is ostracised by the other children, blamed for any trouble by the villagers and bullied by the spiteful Adam Scattergood (her employer’s son), she doesn’t let it get her down or stop her being herself. Hence her friendship with enigmatic One-Eye, who is showing her how to harness the power of the Aesk rune she was born with on her hand. And, it turns out she is pretty powerful!
Now about One-Eye – any of you with even a vague knowledge of Norse mythology have probably worked out who he could be, so I don’t feel it is a spoiler to say he is Odin. Once the General of Asgard and the gods, after Ragnarok, he survived in a weakened state. Taking on his favoured disguise of an old traveller he walks this new world observing and biding his time. And, it was no chance meeting between One-Eye and Maddy on the road, years before, as she believes, but all planned as he sensed her power and destiny. Which leaves you never really knowing if you should trust him!
The crux of the story comes, when, with the growing threat of being discovered by the Order (the new ruling faith), One-Eye sends Maddy, alone, into Red Horse Hill in search of a powerful treasure, that could turn the tides in their (his) favour. Trustingly Maddy sets off into the dark, twisting tunnels with only her otherworldly sight to find it. What follows is an epic, magical romp, which sees Maddy meeting a tricky individual, by the name of ‘Lucky’; facing dangerous enchantments; talking to ‘The Whisperer’, awakening the ‘Sleepers’ and fighting the devastating power of the Order’s ‘Word’.
Altogether I thought Runemarks was seriously good fun and a wonderfully irreverent new take on the old Norse tales, which I’m sure could be enjoyed by all readers, young and old. I don’t have a copy of the sequel Runelight, however I do have Harris’ The Testament of Loki to look forward to next. Great read.
Thank you to the publishers for providing a copy of this book via NetGalley in exchange for my honest opinion.
Have you read this? Or anything else by Joanne Harris?
This is book 2/10 of my 10 Books of Summer 2019.