Finished Joanne Harris’ Runemarks yesterday, definitely a recommended book for teens and adults alike. Despite the teenage protagonist, the book does not read as a young book. The magic/religious system, utilising Norse mythology, is complex in nature (and not just because Norse mythology can be quite complex to those not familiar with it), but Harris manages to explain and describe it clearly, without lecturing.
Maddy, the main character, is a likable heroine. Slightly the stereotypical ‘regular girl who’s an outcast in her society discovers she isn’t what she thought she was’ but well pulled off. It helps that, as the book starts, Maddy already knows she not like everyone else. Saves us from having to go through a whole forced discovery.
The character progress Maddy makes develops from the story and is plausible within the book’s system. The secondary characters are mostly well fleshed out, with multiple character traits, and personal development. I especially like how Harris’ portrayed Loki. I’ve always had a soft spot for the Trickster, and prefer the slightly more soft portrayal here, where he works for himself, but is capable of forming relationships and attachments beyond that me-me-me drive.
The story starts off 500 years after Ragnarók* with 14 year old Maddy using her magical talent to fix a problem. The people around town are aware Maddy is different, she was born with a rune birthmark, or as the townsfolk call it: a ruinmark. They have some fleeting knowledge that she has abilities no one else has, but are mostly in denial of it. Maddy tries her best to fit in, but knows she never will.
The only person she feels comfortable with is One-Eye, a traveler she met as a young girl. He comes by every summer, and teaches her about the old days, the stories of the Gods, and the things she can do. The summer of her 14th year though, everything changes. Starting with One-Eye who is late in showing up, it leads to Maddy using her power to open a portal to the World Below. Which then, as Maddy has been seen by a village boy, leads to a whole host of people getting involved. All with their own goals, everyone ends up trying to stop everyone else.
First person to get involved is Sugar-and-Sack, a goblin. He shows her around World Below, leading to Maddy meeting Loki. And from there the action really starts. Because one thing is for sure, as long as you’re with Loki, you’re in for one hell of a ride, for better or for worse.
*In Norse mythology, Ragnarók is the final battle between the Gods, the end of the world.
Pro: Well fleshed out characters, very interesting world-building,
Con: For the scope of the story, it seemed to happen in too short a period of time