Maureen E's Reviews > Runemarks

Runemarks by Joanne Harris
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Sep 16, 2010

really liked it
bookshelves: fantasy, young-adult
Read from September 16 to 20, 2010

by Joanne Harris

Opening line--"Seven o'clock on a Monday morning, five hundred years after the End of the World, and goblins had been at the cellar again."

This is a massive, sprawling book. But Harris is talented enough to pull off sprawling without feeling bogged-down.

From the front flap: "In Maddy Smith's world, Order rules. Chaos, old gods, Faeries, goblins, magics, glamours--all of these were supposedly vanquished centuries ago. But Maddy knows that a small bit of magic has survived. The 'ruinmark' she was born with on her palm proves it..."

That's not a super great description, but it gives the basic idea. The history of Maddy's world is based on the Norse myths, although these have now become discredited and the Order reigns over all.

At first, I was fairly annoyed by the Order, which felt very obviously like an analogue for Christianity. A lot of its depiction made me feel like Harris was taking kind of cheap-shots at the church. Eventually I decided to just read the story for the story and settled down. And it certainly is a well-written book that's worth reading. I think that in the end Harris's depiction of the various members of the Order might be a little more nuanced than the beginning promised.

It helped that I love tricksters like Loki, and that Harris did a particularly good job of keeping up that "Can you trust him or can't you?" tension that lies at the heart of such characters. Maddy is also great--she's one of those characters that just feels nice. Like someone I would enjoy sitting down and having a cup of tea with. Certainly I'd say that having some Norse mythology in your head already helps. I do, so it's hard to tell if the book would be confusing to someone without that. I'd tend to say that it might be slightly confusing but that things are explained enough that you could get the hang of it without too much trouble.

So, overall I found this a very enjoyable and well-done book, with the caveat that Christians who read it should be willing to read past parts of the message.

Book source: public library
Book information: Alfred Knopf, 2008

Originally published here
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