She spoke the cantrip.
The Hill opened ...
Maddy Smith has always been an outsider. Born with a rusty-coloured rune on her hand – what the villagers call a ruinmark – she is scarred by this symbol of the old gods, a sign of magic.
And everyone knows that magic is dangerous. Except for Maddy who actually thinks it’s rather fun. Until now. For suddenly her friend One-Eye, a rascally Outlander, wants her to open Red Horse Hill and descend into World Below – a world filled with goblins and far worse – to retrieve a relic of the old gods ...
Full of trickery, magic and the enchantment of the Norse myths, Runemarks is an epic fantasy adventure – richly inventive and superbly imaginative.
500 years after the End of the World, Maddy Smith lives in the remote village of Malbry with her father and sister. Born with a rune mark on her hand, she’s gifted with magic – taught to her by the wanderer One-Eye – which she uses to help the villagers, even though most are suspicious of her as they are taught by the Good Book of their new religion that magic is to be feared.
When One-Eye returns to Malbry, he asks Maddy to open Red Horse Hill – a place filled with goblins and other magical creatures – to retrieve the Whisperer, a relic of the old gods. Filled with dreams of adventure and treasure and aware that her own magical powers are growing, Maddy sets off on a quest that will see her encounter prophecies, gods, giants and almost certain death ...
Joanne Harris’s first book for teenagers is an absolute delight. Set in a world infused with Norse mythology, where Ragnorak has happened and Odin and the old gods been defeated, she weaves an epic fantasy filled with magic, danger and dark comedy.
Maddy is a fantastic character – gutsy and determined, she’s always felt like an outsider because of her runemark, but far from being insecure about it, she embraces her powers, pushing One-Eye to teach her how to use them properly. Her journey into Red Horse Hill is as much as a quest to discover who she is and why she has the abilities she does as it is to recover One-Eye’s artefact.
The Gods themselves are depicted well. One-Eye is a man haunted by past failures and seeing one last chance of glory. Loki, the traitorous trickster is deliciously duplicitous – always playing for his own advantage and yet still drawn to old loyalties. I particularly loved the ease with which Harris displays the shifting alliances between gods and giants, each working to their own agenda. Spliced with this are the desires of the humans – the local priest, Nat Parson, who sees stopping Maddy’s quest as his ticket to advancement in his church, and teenager Adam Scattergood, whose personal vendetta against him takes him further than he ever thought.
The whole book was a delight from start to finish – I devoured the pages, desperate to find out what happened next and am really disappointed that there’s no sequel as I would love to read more. It’s a superb joy.
I bought this thinking it was another cynical attempt by a successful adult author to cash in on the YA market with a substandard story. How wrong I was. I loved this book. It’s a brilliant fantasy read, peppered with Norse mythology, a solid quest story and a central character who’s resourceful, clever and desperate to find out who she really is. My only criticism is that there isn’t a sequel so that I can read more about this fabulous world and the people within it.