Book – Runemarks by Joanne Harris
Review by Kayla Ferguson
“Five hundred years after the End of the World, and goblins had been at the cellar again.” Thus begins the epic fantasy adventure of Maddy Smith, a fourteen-year-old girl who was born with a runemark, a forbidden symbol of magic, on her hand. In Maddy’s universe, all magic is banned by the powerful religious government, the Order, that controls the world. No one is allowed to tell the old stories about the gods who used to rule and were supposedly all killed in an ancient apocalyptic battle. No one is allowed to dream or think for themselves. But above all else, no one is allowed to use magic.
Upon befriending an old wanderer named One-Eye who also bears a runemark, Maddy begins to secretly develop her magical abilities under One-Eye’s instruction. She also begins to learn about the old, forbidden stories and the old gods: Odin the war lord, Thor the Thunder Smith, Skadi the ice huntress, Loki the Trickster, and many more. When One-Eye reveals to Maddy that the old stories are true and that the gods still live, hiding from the Order and waiting for their chance to re-establish their kingdom, Maddy agrees to help. But first she must retrieve a hidden artifact from the ancient days which could give the gods the advantage in the coming war… Maddy finds herself launched into a perilous new world of goblins, gigantic serpents, dreams that become real, and gods who may or may not try to kill her, where she must master both her wits and her rune magic if she and her new friends are to survive.
Masterfully woven plotlines, complex character-building, a brave and willful heroine, and truly epic and inventive world-building make this breathtaking fantasy novel one of my all-time favorites. Joanne Harris is a skillful writer whose prose is beautiful, snarky, clever, and ambitious and who sucks you immediately in with excitement, mystery, and intrigue that sweeps you through the entire book. I literally spent 8-10 hour periods of time reading it, unable to put it down until I had to reluctantly leave because I had somewhere else to be. The world-building is some of the best I have ever seen – whether in the fiery chambers of World Below, land of dwarves and goblins, in the massive icy cavern where many of the gods have slept in a frozen slumber the last five hundred years, or in the sinister Black Fortress where nightmares become real, you will feel like you are there with the characters. Those characters themselves are one of the best parts of the book, complicated, diverse, and brilliantly written. Maddy is a bold and headstrong heroine who can hold her own in a rune fight yet suffers from doubt, fear, and unsureness like any person. The old gods, all of whom are based directly on the gods of Norse mythology, are introduced to the reader in a humorous and helpful glossary at the beginning of the book, for those who may not already familiar with them. Harris fleshes out these deities into fully-faceted, flawed characters who quarrel, betray one another, and each have their own reasons for wanting to see the Order overthrown. The system of rune spells is also refreshingly unique for fantasy readers who love complex, innovative methods of describing and using magic.
This novel is a satisfying reward to readers who love an immersive fantasy world, a plot with constant twists and turns, flawed heroes, subtle villains, (and an absolutely amazing anti-hero who will charm your heart out of your chest before he steals it), and an epic ending worth every page leading up to it. Fans of Harry Potter, The Lord of the Rings, the Inkheart trilogy, the Inheritance Cycle, Star Wars, the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and Game of Thrones should try Runemarks!