Wednesday, 30 July 2014

Runemarks, by Joanne Harris

2 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...”
With an opening line like that and the blurb promising Norse gods, Runemarks had the potential to become one of my new favourite books. Potential that it then squandered as it edged really, really, really slowly towards its confusing and chaotic end.

Teenaged Maddy Smith lives in the village of Malbry, in a world in which Ragnarok really happened. With the old gods dead or forgotten, they’ve now been replaced by The Order, an Inquisition-like bunch of religious zealots that presides over a suspicious and unimaginative population, making sure that it is regularly ‘cleansed’ of undesirables such as those with runes upon their skin, like Maddy.

Whilst ostracised and sneered upon by her neighbours, Maddy hasn’t yet been murdered by them and so spends her time working low-level rune magic to keep the cellars clear of the goblins that have been increasing in number. But then her old friend One-Eye (ooh, wonder who that might be, wondered no-one ever) sends her into Red Horse Hill on a quest for some treasure, setting her on the path to adventure – one in which she’ll encounter more not-dead gods, sort-of-dead gods, and gods-who-were-dead-but-then-got-better, severed heads and other dimensions, attempt to thwart prophecies, find out who she really is, and save the Nine Worlds from ending.

I enjoyed the early part of the book and the world and magic system that was set up – even the fingering (fnar!) that the practice of magic through runes required that makes anyone taking part in a battle look like they’ve got to the finger-tutting part of their breakdancing routine.

Sadly, instead of my enjoyment increasing once we got involved with the gods, it all went rather downhill from the moment Maddy entered Red Horse Hill, and while a lot happened on her trek through the Underworld and into others – far much to go into here – reading it felt rather like wading through treacle and seemed to take aeons to get through. The gods were all well presented – especially Loki, who gets all of the charm and the best lines (although I have to fear for the intelligence of a heroine who puts her trust in, and is always taken aback when someone known as a liar and who’s even referred to throughout as the Trickster, turns out to be a liar), but Norse mythology can be slightly confusing at the best of times and this wasn’t helped as Maddie’s quest progressed and we starting bumping up against the realms of Chaos and Dream. I understand that Chaos and Dream are, well, chaotic and dreamlike, but towards the end it got so chaotic that it soon became the reading equivalent of this:

Sometimes it’s not about the destination, but the journey. In this case, I should have probably stayed at home.

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