Book review: ‘Runemarks’ by Joanne Harris

Rating: 3/5 stars

“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 was born with a rusty-coloured runemark on her hand – a symbol of the old gods and definitely cause for suspicion. For magic is dangerous. Or so everyone thinks. But Maddy enjoys working magic. Even if it is just to control some pesky goblins. And every time her friend, One-Eye – a good-for-nowt Outlander – comes by, he teaches her more and more about the gods and the runes.

Now he wants Maddy to open Red Horse Hill and descend into World Below to retrieve a relic of the old gods. Otherwise it is likely to be the End of Everything. Again . . .

An epic romp into the heart of the old Norse tales: wild, dangerous, richly inventive and superbly imaginative.”


I bought this book a fair few years ago, about 2008, I should think and tried to read it then. Sadly, I dropped it after the second part as it simply didn’t hold me. Since then it’s been sat on my bookshelf staring at me accusingly because, after all, it’s a book with a stunning cover (which matters when it’s sat on a shelf!), a great premise, and a humorous style so why couldn’t I read it? That said, I never felt any real urge to attempt once again to read it so it wasn’t until today when I needed a non electronic book to read in the bath that it got grabbed.

This book was a strange one for me, and I’ll admit that, as I write this review, I don’t know what star rating I want to give it. My overall feeling of the book is both positive and negative which, of course, makes it incredibly difficult to score.

Well, we’ll start with the overwhelmingly positive, shall we? I managed to finish it this time! I did enjoy the story, and feel that it’s rather an epic tale as opposed to a children’s novel and this is where I think it falls down.

Lets start with the fact that it’s a book rooted in Norse mythology. Set in a sleepy village five hundred years after Ragnarök, ‘Runemarks’ is almost a sequel to the stories told about the Norse pantheons. I’ll be honest and say that this is a positive for me because, as you’ll know if you’ve read my reviews before, I am a complete history and mythology nerd. Of course, Norse mythology isn’t as well known in pop-culture as, say, Greek myths and therefore a bit more background is necessary. Joanne Harris does explain relevant aspects of the original mythology as she goes along but this makes different aspects seem really random and therefore breaks up the plot somewhat. I don’t know how she could have done this better as, after all, she’s retelling, building upon, and manipulating the stories of probably one of the more confusing faiths (the fact there’s two pantheons and nine worlds should give you a clue!). Sadly, it does affect the story that she is telling.

‘Runemarks’ has a lot of characters.Some are from mythology, some aren’t, and some are from mythology but in the form of someone who isn’t. Confused? Well, the book does explain it better than that but I must admit that it’s not always simple to follow. Lets not mention the fact that there are characters who are mentioned once or twice, play a key role at the time, and that’s it. It sets your head buzzing somewhat. However, the fact that there are a few constants such as Maddy, Loki, Sugar, One-Eye makes this more feasible. It also makes it work well enough for it not to have an impact.

My biggest problem with the novel has got to be that I have no idea what they heck happened at the end. Due to attempting to keep reviews spoiler free I won’t go into too much detail but, suffice to say, I was left rather befuddled. I might understand it better if I read it again but I’m not really compelled to do so.

It’s strange. I gave this book a star rating as soon as I finished it, three stars, so something must have caught me about it but as I write this, a few weeks after finishing I have no idea what that was. I think that the passage of time has made the confusing ending more obvious to me and the star rating is slipping in my mind. That said, I don’t think it’s fair to change my original view which was made with the book a lot fresher in  my mind so three stars it is.

If you want to give Runemarks a go then you can buy it in paperback form or for kindle. They’re about the same cost but the paperback is glittery!


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