Runemarks by Joanne Harris – a Norse story

  • TitleRunemarks
  • AuthorJoanne Harris
  • Genre: Fantasy, Young Adult, Norse mythology, Nordic
  • Publication Date:  August 2007
  • Publisher: Doubleday
  • Rating: 3/5 stars

An entertaining – if not meandering – foray into the Norse pantheon.

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.

Maddy, a 14-year-old girl was born with a ruinmark, or runemark, which marked her as tainted by the Old Days and has cast her as a witch. Malbry, the village she lives in, hasn’t “Cleansed” (executed) her, but instead has shunned her, while still using her powers when needed, usually goblins are getting into the ale storages.

When she is much younger, Maddy comes across an old man, nicknamed One-Eye. Her visits her every year, teaching her more about her magic, telling her stories out the old days and the gods and goddesses, and raising her in his own way for the few weeks he’s around.

When tides turn and a villager overhears One-Eye telling Maddy about a treasure to be found and about her magical powers, Maddy goes on the run. But everything she does from that point on has an effect – does Chaos reign and the end of the world happen, or can she quell the rising power of destruction and bring and keep Order to the land.

Runemark was a decent book, especially if you’re interested in Norse mythology. The major players, including Odin, Thor, Hel, and others are brought in and woven together, each with complex relationships with the other characters (though most everyone has issues with Loki, the Trickster).

I did think descriptions were far too long and meandering, and the book read like high fantasy. With lots of journeying and forays into caves and tunnels, Hel and the Netherworld, it felt Tolkien-esque, which did not appeal to me. I also thought gameplay was too stretched out, and could have been reined in a bit to make for a tighter narrative and writing.

I also wasn’t sure why most of the characters disliked Loki: I realized he was a scoundrel, but not knowing enough Norse mythology, I didn’t know enough backstory to appreciate character behaviors towards him. Even with dense writing and a complex plotline, I still don’t think the book eased a reader into the Norse pantheon well enough. I also wasn’t convinced about the plot twist – it seemed too much, with too little setup, and what was meant to be a big reveal ended up being an “oh! that’s interesting, but I don’t care enough” moment.

I did enjoy meeting all the Norse characters and having Ragnarok being a thing of the past, with a second Ragnarok in the making. This added a new dimension to the Norse-inspired books I’ve read before, and certainly marked Runemarks as different. But with the slower pace and heavy descriptions, I give Runemarks 3 stars.

Favorite quotes from Runemarks:

“A thing named is a thing tamed.” 

“The dead know everything but they don’t give a damn.” 

“A man may plant a tree for a number of reasons. Perhaps he likes trees. Perhaps he wants shelter. Or perhaps he knows that someday he may need the firewood.” 

“Anything that can be dreamed is true.” 

“For a teller of tales will never die, but will live on in stories – for as long as there are folk to listen.” 

“What is it that the slave dreams? The slave dreams of being the master.”

“A problem shared is a problem solved.”  

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