Review of Runemarks (Runemarks #1) – Joanne M. Harris

Posted: May 18, 2018 in fantasy, Review
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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.

Gollancz

Supplied by Hatchette New Zealand

Reviewed by Jacqui

I was somewhat surprised to be sent what is a sequel of sorts to The Gospel of Loki, because when I reviewed that work back in 2014, I made it quite clear that I didn’t think much of it. But, in my opinion, Runemarks is a far better book, and far more enjoyable. There are far fewer jarring anachronisms, and the story is much stronger in many ways.

That story is set in an indeterminate future, five hundred years after Ragnarok. Maddy Smith has a ruinmark on her hand, and runes signify magic. But the Order is deeply opposed to magic of any sort. You can see where this is going… I have to say that I am heartily tired of the “Organized Religion is a front for Evil” trope, but it is pivotal to the story in this case, and that story is both well-structured and entertaining. Of course the Norse gods are meddling in human affairs again, but there is a lot more to it than that, lots of plot-twists and deception, and it all comes together in a spectacular climax. Or almost, because I suspect that the author loses control around about there, and some things don’t quite work. But there are some fine ideas on the nature of Order and Chaos, and of Hel itself. The prose flows, and produces some very quotable lines…

“So what you’re saying is . . . I shouldn’t play with fire,” she said at last.
“Of course you should,” said One-Eye gently. “But don’t be surprised if the fire plays back.”

So what we have here is a well-written, cleverly plotted Norse fantasy with just a touch of satire. A B+ this time, I think!

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