14-year-old Maddy Smith lives in the village of Malbry, where unnatural things – like Goblins burrowing into the cellar to drink the ale – are never discussed. Imagination is feared and even dreams are avoided, which is why Malbry folk sleep on uncomfortable boards instead of mattresses and never tell each other bedtime stories. But Maddy, who was born with a rust-coloured ‘ruinmark’ on her hand, knows the truth about magic. Shunned by the villagers, her only true friend is a mysterious Outlander called One-Eye, who teaches Maddy about the old Norse gods and Chaos blood, and insists that her “runemark” (as he calls it) is the sign of a very special destiny. He knows that all the worlds are under threat, and only Maddy can save them. But to do that, she must descend into the underworld to retrieve a relic of the old gods. It is a dangerous and frightening mission Maddy will probably not survive, but it is the only way for Maddy to discover her true powers and avoid the End of Everything…
A well-written book is powerful magic and, like all good magic, is the sum-total of focused creativity and some very cleverly worded spells. Joanne M. Harris opens Runemarks with a sentence that reads like an incantation, and her magic doesn’t release its hold until the very end of the novel. In essence it’s the familiar tale of a young outsider undertaking a fantastical journey to save the universe and, en route, discover who she really is, but Harris develops her characters and spins out the adventure so cleverly that we barely notice this is ground we’ve trodden many, many times before. She keeps the story moving along nicely with her alluring combination of outlawed gods, forbidden magic, and the threat posed by a puritanical regime called the Order, and if you’re already a fan of Norse mythology (although that’s not a prerequisite) you’ll be particularly delighted by some of the characters Maddy encounters – especially an extremely well-realised version of Loki - and the various mythological references scattered throughout the adventure.
Originally published in 2007, this new re-edited hardcover edition is a fantastic way to either reacquaint yourself with the Runemarks universe (yes, there are sequels and they’re just as good) or experience Maddy’s quest for the very first time. Highly recommended.
RUNEMARKS / AUTHOR: JOANNE M. HARRIS / PUBLISHER: GOLLANCZ / RELEASE DATE: NOVEMBER 24TH