REVIEW: Runemarks by Joanne Harris

REVIEW: Runemarks by Joanne HarrisRunemarks (Runemarks #1) by Joanne Harris
Published: Knopf Books for Young Readers (2007), Paperback, 544pg
Source: Bought
Genres: Adventure, Fantasy, Fiction

Seven o'clock, on a Monday morning, five hundred years after the end of the world, and goblins had been at the cellar again...

Maddy Smith was born with a rusty-coloured runemark on her hand - a symbol of the old gods and definitely cause for suspicion. For magic is dangerous. Or so everyone thinks. But Maddy enjoys working magic. Even if it is just to control some pesky goblins. And every time her friend, One-Eye - a good-for-nowt Outlander - comes by, he teaches her more and more about the gods and the runes. Now he wants Maddy to open Red Horse Hill and descend into World Below to retrieve a relic of the old gods. Otherwise it is likely to be the End of Everything.

Again... (from Goodreads)

I’ve gotten more and more fond of books with Norse mythology in them, probably because I took a really good medieval history class last semester that covered quite a bit of Viking history, which naturally made me more interested in everything to do with Viking and so on. One thing I’ve noticed about these books, though, is that the protagonists tend to be all boys, and I prefer to read books about girls (because I am one, and, by the way, there aren’t nearly enough fantasy books starring girls without any romance in them). So! I really liked Runemarks because it had loads of nifty Norse gods and mythology in it, and a female lead that did things besides trying to woo her boyfriend! (Not that she had a boyfriend.)

Maddy is a really strong female lead, one who has powerful abilities and isn’t afraid to go off and have her own adventures. She’s also pretty realistic, by which I mean she felt like a real person to me, with feelings and dreams and a personality of her own. I also liked that she was really– I don’t know how to say it. Female? She didn’t just seem like Ms Harris had taken a boy character and switched him into a girl– Maddy was a real girl and her gender was an important part of herself. Does that make sense? I hope it does, because I don’t think there are tons of female adventure types that actually like being a girl and want to do things as a girl; it always seems instead that they disguise themselves as boys or something (Shakespeare does that a lot in his plays).

Anyway, the story is a really exciting one, with battles and magic and gnomes. It slows down a bit in the middle, and the ending was somewhat of a disappointment to me because it was sort of like Maddy had been pushed to the side in favor of Odin’s subplot. But I had a wonderful time following Maddy along in her adventures, and the rest of the characters were sufficiently flushed out enough to not just become prop figures.

One character who really surprised me was Loki, who nearly always is portrayed as an almost evil character, more malicious than mischievous (think American Gods, maybe). The Loki in Runemarks is very sympathetic, and it made me think of him more as a person who is trapped in a place he doesn’t want to be, where he can’t ever win and he has to look out for himself because no-one else will. I think he even says somewhere in the book that the gods are happy to use his talents when it suits them, but then sweep him under the rug (or try to kill him) when they no longer need him. So, yeah, that made me empathize with him more than despise him, even when he did try to trick Maddy out of something (he made up for it later, anyway).

I really enjoyed reading Runemarks. I think it’d be a great book for anyone interested in alternate universes, Norse mythology, strong female adventurer characters, and fun fantasy stories that aren’t exactly swords-and-sorcerers but do give that sort of thing a nod. The ending isn’t exactly a cliffhanger but it does leave room for a sequel, which I think Ms Harris is working on now. I think.

Read: June 2-4, 2010

In Runemarks the characters do magic by “fingering,” which sounds dirty but is really just making runes with your fingers. I couldn’t exactly picture it myself, even after trying to make shapes with my own fingers, but luckily Ms Harris included a page on her website demonstrating fingerings, with pictures!

6 thoughts on “REVIEW: Runemarks by Joanne Harris”

  1. I totally agree- I hate it whenever I pick up a speculative fiction book with a female lead that ends up having romance just lobbed in there for no reason. (Hello, The Hunger Games!) I’m definitely going to give this a read now. Thanks for this review!

  2. This sounds great! I don’t usually read a lot of fantasy, but I like the sound of this. Especially because of the Norse mythology and female lead combination.

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