Joanne Harris: Runemarks


I received a free digital copy of this book from the publishers through Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

It’s been five hundred years since the end of the world and society has rebuilt itself anew. The old Norse gods are no longer revered. Their tales have been banned. Magic is outlawed, and a new religion – the Order – has taken its place.

In a remote valley in the north, fourteen-year-old Maddy Smith is shunned for the ruinmark on her hand – a sign associated with the Bad Old Days. But what the villagers don’t know is that Maddy has skills. According to One-Eye, the secretive Outlander who is Maddy’s only real friend, her ruinmark – or runemark, as he calls it – is a sign of Chaos blood, magical powers and gods know what else…

Now, as the Order moves further north, threatening all the Worlds with conquest and Cleansing, Maddy must finally learn the truth to some unanswered questions about herself, her parentage, and her powers.

Runemarks is a young adult, fantasy novel that follows Maddy as she attempts to find out the truth about who she is as a person. As a young child, she meets a man by the name of One-Eye who agrees to teach her how to control and build upon her powers whilst, each year, asking about the events of the local town. Until, one year, Maddy retells the years events which gives One-Eye cause for concern and their world, and everyone else’s, is changed.

I’m always on the lookout for a new fantasy series that I can really get my teeth into. Nowadays, I find it really hard to find any worthwhile investing and feel like the genre has become a bit lackluster. Gone are the days of Robert Jordan and his Wheel of Time series – unless you could George R. R. Martin but, at the rate he is going, Game of Thrones will never finish! Runemarks, though not the best fantasy I have ever read, was certainly interesting and fully took advantage of my love for religion/myths and legends. Harris centres the novel around Norse mythology and the legends surrounding Thor, Loki, Odin etc, bringing these characters into a more modern, rustic setting than the time that they originated from. I loved understanding the connections between the different Norse Gods and the roles that they played in Ragnarok, as well as in the present day of the novel. However, I did find that the Gods weren’t truly fleshed out in how I expected them to be. I felt like Loki wasn’t as mischievous and cunning as I was expecting; what little we saw of Thor didn’t really give me a sense of power and largesse about him. Though I did enjoy this characters and how they were portrayed, I felt like they were a bit simmered down from what I was expecting, and how they had previously depicted (damn you, Avengers!).

Harris’ world-building is simple and easy to understand, set in a rustic, country village that cannot truly comprehend magic or anything out of the ordinary. We don’t see much outside of the village bar the many worlds that live below and the realms of Death and Netherworld which, though I thought they would be hard to imagine due to the concept of these realms, were actually quite vivid and full of detail. I would definitely like to see more of the world that Maddy and her villagers come from, especially World’s End in order to fully understand the world that they live in but felt that Harris wrote beautifully and with faultless description to truly bring the setting to life.

Maddy, as a character, is stubborn and wild with a thirst for knowledge and understanding the powers that she has been given. She stops at nothing when pestering One-Eye to tutor her in the ways of runes and understanding the history of the world in regards to the Norse Gods and Ragnarok. However, Maddy is also an outsider and someone who is shunned and pushed aside out of fear at what she can, or could, do. She feels this even within her own family, and the novel sets her on a path in understanding who she truly is and what she is capable of. I am hoping that in the next novel, we will get to see the opinions of the villagers again following the events of Runemarks and how these may have differed from this first novel.

This novel is well-written and thoroughly researched to bring an interesting, adventure filled novel that focuses a lot on the trust and relationships between these Norse Gods and Maddy and how they are broken and forged. It was definitely a novel I enjoyed even though the characters didn’t meet my expectations but I could definitely see that, following the events of Ragnarok, their demeanor may have altered slightly. The pacing was well set and wasn’t slow or too fast making for an enjoyable read.



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