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Runemarks
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95 of 99 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon May 15, 2008
Format: HardcoverVerified Purchase
My partner at the bookstore is much more well-read in Norse mythology than I am, but I like Joanne Harris, and I like young adult fantasy, so when I saw "Runemarks" listed as a BookSense pick a couple months back, I decided I'd like to try it. Wow!!!! I am so glad I did!!! Not only was it clever and enjoyable, I'd have to say it's the best book I've read in at least six months, and that's saying a lot. I don't sell as many hardcover books to the teens and families who come through the store, because price can be a factor, but I confidently stocked this book, in hardcover, 4 or 5 deep at a time, because I know I can handsell it. And I do! It's not a hard sell; I love the book, and the book speaks for itself. As many other reviewers have said, it takes an old theme, old characters, and gives them new life, a fresh twist, and a humorous, exciting story. I love when it's easy to get really absorbed in a good, long book, and this book drew me right in and made me want to keep flying through the pages. Satisfying, meaty, without being too intense, it's a great read for young adult and adult kid alike. So glad to hear rumors of a sequel!!
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39 of 43 people found the following review helpful
Format: Hardcover
I found this book on a shelf and brought it home simply from looking at the dust jacket. I read it in an evening over several hours (I am a fast reader.). It was excellent. While I am familiar with the Norse Lore, I did not expect the story to turn out as it does. It is creative, and the young protagonist, Maddy, is clever and uses rune magic quite deftly. I would recommend this book for adults as well as children. It was shelved as a young adult book, but I found it just as engaging a work of fiction as many of the other novels I read.
As a mother to three, I think my children will enjoy reading this book, and I have passed it on to my daughter to read already and she laughed when she saw that the story features a traveller named One-Eye. The novel stands on it's own as a good story.

What I found even more useful was that the Norse Gods play a part in the story and the use of Runes as they journey through the nine worlds. As the story reveals who the characters are, you get to see a different view on the Aesir and Vanir, which is something that an Asatru or Heathen would enjoy sharing with their child, even if only to discuss how their views of the Gods differ. The author's knowledge of the runes and stories shine through in this work of fiction. Bring it home and share it with your family.
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27 of 29 people found the following review helpful
Format: Hardcover
Maddy is as outcast as they come. In a Norse culture that views magic as evil and labels darkskinned folks as Outlanders, being born an orphan girl with a ruin-mark on your palm is just about the worst way to start things off. Infants and animals are often killed for such offenses, and even far from the reach of the Universal City in the village of Malbry, people still hide such signs. It doesn't help that strange events follow Maddy everywhere she goes. Goblins from the mysterious Red Horse Hill on the outskirts of town are drawn to her and have been seen staring at her from windowsills before taking off with stolen food. Belongings are damaged or disappear entirely. People die. No one quite knows what to do with her.

Enter the one-eyed scallyman, with a bent toward secrecy, prophecy, and the unexplained. During a "chance" meeting up near the Hill, One-Eye agrees to mentor Maddy. For seven years, he tells her the stories of the Elder Age, teaches her cantrips and runecharms, and more than anything, helps her feel normal. She has more natural power than One-Eye has seen in a youth in a long time, and it is because of this power that her training continues. Each year when their lessons are finished, One-Eye leaves for World's End with the promise that he will return, and each year he returns. Only this year, he's late.

Trouble is brewing up on Red Horse Hill when One-Eye finally returns. Rumors are spreading of the Nameless, a powerful new god controlled by the Order, and its terrible new power called the Word. Laws for proper use of the Word are laid out in the Good Book and can only be utilized by certain people. These same people communicate with each other and the Nameless via Communion and punish heretics, magicians, and Faëries with Cleansings. One-Eye knows what's happening and tells Maddy of his plan to fight back against the Order and the Nameless. He lets her in on the secrets of the past -- of the golden age of the Norse gods the Vanir and the Æsir, of Odin, Loki, Thor, Freyja, and the rest of them -- of a great power known as the Whisperer that Odin believes to be hidden in the World Below beneath Red Horse Hill -- of the Seven Sleepers that might be summoned if Maddy succeeds on her mission.

Odin One-Eye sends Maddy on a dangerous secret mission into the World Below to retrieve the legendary Whisperer and offer some hope to fight back against the rising power of the Nameless. What Maddy and Odin don't know is that Maddy's journey might bring about the end of the world, only for real this time. Chaos might take over Order. The fabric of our reality might fail and the legend of the gods and humanity and the Nine Worlds might be lost forever.

RUNEMARKS is a wonderful addition to the rich past of the Norse gods, taking the stories of the Elder Age and answering the questions: "What if the world didn't end like it was supposed to?" "What if the prophecies were wrong?" Featuring Runic magic, goblins, Faërie legends, Underworld wars, hidden Oracles, doomsday prophecies, and shapeshifting gods, Maddy's adventures take readers into the heart of Norse mythology and the fates of the gods. Whether you're an avid fan of Norse mythology or not, you won't want to miss Maddy's action-packed adventure and her discovery of a place where she can finally belong.

--- Reviewed by Jonathan Stephens
--- First Published at TeenReads
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon January 19, 2008
Format: Hardcover
Oh my! This book is epic enough to please a Tolkien fan, but has moments of humor, as in the wonderful first sentence: "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, the fourteen-year-old witch-in-training who is at the center of this tale, has a "ruinmark" or runemark on her hand, a symbol, not only of her power, but of the role she is meant to play as events accumulate like clouds bundling on the horizon. Old One-Eye, the peddlar/tramp who has been coming around once a year to teach Maddy magic; the goblins who swarm beneath Red Horse Hill; and people like Nat Parson, who is eager to please the priests of the powerful Order--all have a part to play in the twisting and turning pieces of plot that make up Joanne Harris's Runemarks. Even Fat Lizzy, a pot-bellied sow, features in this adventure--reminding me happily of the magical pig in Lloyd Alexander's Chronicles of Prydain.

But the most important thread binding this book together is Norse mythology. In fact, you might want to brush up on those stories before you start reading Runemarks. Aside from Maddy, the star of the book is obviously trickster Loki, the most exasperating and intriguing of the Norse pantheon. In fact, a running joke beginning as early as the list of characters is that Loki has managed to make enemies out of absolutely EVERYONE over the centuries. The author goes on to make good use of the Trickster's dual nature throughout the book. Can he be relied on? No. Is he sometimes helpful, just the same? Of course!

Runemarks begins when Maddy, who hasn't been reported to the Order yet because she usefully keeps the local goblins under control, opens up a nest of goblins and worse beneath an inn's cellar in the village of Malbry. Soon the Order is summoned, gods are awakened, and Maddy is fleeing through the World Below with a magical relic called the Whisperer. She is accompanied by the always unreliable Loki, who has something devious in mind, but doesn't realize that he himself is the pawn of yet another power.

Much of the book consists of in-fighting among the awakened Norse gods--mostly the Vanir branch, as the majority of the Aesir branch remains trapped in the Netherworld. Some of the villagers also become embroiled in magic as Maddy dives deeper into traps, conspiracies, and prophecies, all the while trying to help One-Eye and find her true place in the world.

Although this book is convoluted, it moves surprisingly quickly. I found the occasional anachronistic phrase jarring, but otherwise thoroughly enjoyed Joanne Harris's wordsmithing. I do wish I'd felt a little more connection with Maddy--there's so much plotting and counter-plotting that I didn't get to know her as well as I would have liked. Then again, Harris's Loki is wonderful!

As a children's fantasy reader AND Chocolat fan, I was happy to discover Runemarks. Harris seems to leave the door open for a sequel, though the book has a satisfying ending. Our heroine Maddy finds what she's looking for, but only after she has traveled clear to Hel and back. You, too, might want to travel to the borders of Chaos with Maddy and Loki.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on January 22, 2008
Format: Hardcover
I've found that I really enjoy books based on Norse mythology, and so when Joanne Harris's Runemarks came out, I knew that I'd have to make time to read it and I'm very glad that I finally did. Set 500 years after Ragnarok, the book is about Maddy Smith's discovery that the rune-mark that she was born with on her palm is far more than an unwanted curse (although occasionally helpful for dealing with goblins) - the wanderer known as One-Eye sees that it will involve her in a battle between the last of the gods, and the new religion that would sweep them away forever.

One of the things I most enjoy about the story is that Maddy isn't ignorant - once she begins to put the pieces together, she knows the mythology of her world, and uses it to her advantage in dealing with the gods. The readers aren't left following along wondering why she hasn't noticed, for example, that she's dealing with Loki, and why on earth is she trusting him?! The story is well-enough written, though, that unfamiliar readers will find the background quickly explained as they go along. Moreover, Joanne Harris seems to have a good grasp on the mythology herself, and uses it to weave together a story that feels both familiar and fresh at the same time, which is a welcome treat.

And while you're waiting for a sequel to be written (Oh, please, write a sequel!), I'd recommend checking out Mickey Reichert's Beyond Ragnarok. It's another amazing Norse fantasy that I think would appeal to anyone who enjoyed Runemarks.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on January 19, 2008
Format: Hardcover
This book is fantastic. And I don't say that lightly. As a bookseller I've seen a lot of books roll through, and as a fantasy lover I've read quite a few of them. Most were just trying to be Harry Potter...
Runemarks though stood up well on its own. It took something old, in this case Norse mythology, and spun it around into something fresh and new and entertaining. It's only resemblance to Harry Potter comes from that feeling of not wanting to put this one down, and that need at the end for the sequel to come out already (which the author is working on)
And despite being shelved in Teens or Young Readers, it is written with enough skill to please any adult.
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10 of 12 people found the following review helpful
#1 HALL OF FAMEon January 12, 2008
Format: Hardcover
Five centuries have past since the battle of Ragnarok in which the gods lost and eternal winter became the norm. With the gods gone and allegedly no more magic existing, filling the leadership vacuum of the Middle World of the Nine Worlds is the Order, who rule with an iron fisted theocracy.

Maddy Smith born with a runemark on her palm knows some residue magic still exists. However the eight hundred villagers of Malbry in the Strond Valley region of the civilized Inland island scorn her because her "ruinmark" make them believe she is a witch. They would exile her except that their hamlet is on the edge of Red Horse Hill, a locale containing the pre-Ragnarok power. Thus they need the witch's skills to control the goblin plague that comes with being so close to the ancient magic. Everything changes for the needed pariah when a traveler One-Eye enters the village. He recognizes her having a world destiny if she can believe in herself; he offers to teach Maddy in Faerie; she avidly accepts.

The biggest problem for parents with this excellent young adult Norse fantasy is their children will be so hooked with the Potter syndrome they will stay up several nights to read this wonderful five hundred plus page tale. The story line is fast-paced from the first rune to the last while the supportive cast is fully developed from Adam the Bully to the heroine's family to the Devotees to the goblins Lucky and Sugar and Sack, etc. However, Maddy and to a lesser degree her mentor own this coming of age Middle World saga.

Harriet Klausner
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on August 11, 2008
Format: Hardcover
Maddy Smith is as outcast as they come. In a Norse culture that views magic as evil and labels dark-skinned folks as Outlanders, being born an orphan girl with a ruinmark on your palm is just about the worst way to start things off. Infants and animals are often killed for such offenses, and even far from the reach of the Universal City in the village of Malbry, people still hide such signs. It doesn't help that strange events follow Maddy everywhere she goes. Goblins from the mysterious Red Horse Hill on the outskirts of town are drawn to her and have been seen staring at her from window sills before taking off with stolen food. Belongings are damaged or disappear entirely. People die. No one quite knows what to do with her.

Enter the one-eyed scallyman, with a bent toward secrecy, prophecy and the unexplained. During a "chance" meeting up near the Hill, One-Eye agrees to mentor Maddy. For seven years, he tells her the stories of the Elder Age, teaches her cantrips and runecharms, and more than anything, helps her feel normal. She has more natural power than One-Eye has seen in a youth in a long time, and it is because of this power that her training continues. Each year when their lessons are finished, One-Eye leaves for World's End with the promise that he will return, and each year he does. This year, however, he is late.

Trouble is brewing up on Red Horse Hill when One-Eye finally comes back. Rumors are spreading of the Nameless, a powerful new god controlled by the Order, and its terrible new power called the Word. Laws for proper use of the Word are laid out in the Good Book and can only be utilized by certain people. These same individuals communicate with each other and the Nameless via Communion and punish heretics, magicians, and Faëries with Cleansings. One-Eye knows what's happening and tells Maddy of his plan to fight back against the Order and the Nameless. He lets her in on the secrets of the past --- of the golden age of the Norse gods the Vanir and the Æsir; of Odin, Loki, Thor, Freyja and the rest of them; of a great power known as the Whisperer that Odin believes to be hidden in the World Below beneath Red Horse Hill; and of the Seven Sleepers that might be summoned if Maddy succeeds on her mission.

Odin One-Eye sends Maddy on a dangerous secret mission into the World Below to retrieve the legendary Whisperer and offer some hope to fight back against the rising power of the Nameless. What Maddy and Odin don't know is that Maddy's journey could bring about the end of the world, only for real this time. Chaos might take over Order. The fabric of our reality might fail, and the legend of the gods and humanity and the Nine Worlds might be lost forever.

RUNEMARKS --- bestselling author Joanne Harris's fantasy debut --- is a wonderful addition to the rich past of the Norse gods, taking the stories of the Elder Age and answering the questions "What if the world didn't end like it was supposed to?" "What if the prophecies were wrong?" Featuring Runic magic, goblins, Faërie legends, Underworld wars, hidden Oracles, doomsday prophecies and shapeshifting gods, Maddy's adventures take readers into the heart of Norse mythology and the fates of the gods. Whether you're an avid fan of Norse mythology or not, you won't want to miss Maddy's action-packed adventure and her discovery of a place where she can finally belong.

--- Reviewed by Jonathan Stephens
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on July 15, 2010
Format: Hardcover
This isn't the best book I've ever picked up. It had an interesting title and I tend to go for fantasy so it seemed like a good match. I liked the concept of combining spells, but the overall book was just really confusing to me. Especially at the end. I didn't get it at all. for the last fourth of the book it was very confusing to me. I have to say I found it more confusing than the whole Harry Potter series. At the end, I had this feeling of it being a pointless book.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on February 17, 2013
Format: PaperbackVerified Purchase
It was a little bit slow for me at the start, but once I got into RUNEMARKS, I REALLY got into Runemarks! I loved the premise -- the idea of everything being set AFTER Ragnarok, where things maybe didn't go quite the way they had been meant to. I loved Maddy, who was so brilliantly independent and determined. I LOVED Loki, and man, that is some feat, because I am really not a fan of him at the best of times. The way Ms. Harris balanced Loki and Odin, was just perfect.

If you love Norse mythology, you should read this book immediately. That's all I'm saying, because I don't want to risk spoiling anything about the story.
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