by Joanne Harris
Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers
Publication Date: January 8th, 2008
Format Read: Hardcover/Kindle E-Book
Seven o’clock on a Monday morning, five hundred years after the end of the world, and goblins had been at the cellar again. . . . Not that anyone would admit it was goblins. In Maddy Smith’s world, order rules. Chaos, old gods, fairies, goblins, magic, 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–and makes the other villagers fearful that she is a witch (though helpful in dealing with the goblins-in-the-cellar problem). But the mysterious traveler One-Eye sees Maddy’s mark not as a defect, but as a destiny. And Maddy will need every scrap of forbidden magic One-Eye can teach her if she is to survive that destiny.
You know, a lot of people go all gloom and doom about the end of the world, without ever bothering to ask ‘what happens next?’. I mean, obviously since it’s the end of the world, not much…but then again, maybe something.
Runemarks takes place 500 years after Ragnarok, the Norse apocalypse, in a quiet little town by the name of Malbry, with a girl called Maddy. She’s an outcast–for one thing, she’s a skinny, grubby little girl who doesn’t feel like sucking up to anyone. For another thing, she has a Ruin Mark on her hand and creepy, unmentioned powers. She suspects that things are going to go on the same forever, with occasional reprieve from her traveler friend One-Eye…but then he comes late, and comes with an urgent assignment for Maddy. And a message: the Old Gods are alive, and facing a whole new threat.
It’s fairly easy to figure out that the main theme of the book is faith and religion, as with Joanne Harris’ other very-well known book Chocolat. People at my church certainly raised eyebrows when I was reading it at a community picnic. However, I find that rather than actually going against religion, she simply presents a…skepticism towards it. A request, if you will, not to follow blindly.
Skepticism is actually also another theme, maybe a more general one, in this book. Maddy is being presented with numerous mentor figures, none of whom are giving her the whole truth and all of whom are trying, in some way or another, to use her. Most of her quest is to find a way to keep herself separate and free, while also keeping the people she cares for safe. Also there’s an idea that prophecy always comes true, albeit not in a way that you might suspect.
But let’s talk about religion. The Norse Gods, numerous as they are here, are not the focus–they’re a varied set of players on a field, but they are players. There is, however, a RELIGION, first seen with the rather greedy Parson and later glimpsed in the fervent dedication of World’s End, the seat of government run by a group that’s half librarians, half priests, and totally nuts. Example: none of the members are known by names, only by numbers branded on their arms. There is a clear need for conformity and a lack of imagination, as evidenced by the fact that dreaming is discouraged (always a bad sign). Maddy, the clear outcast, shows us what society values and what it does not.
Not that the book is preachy. It’s actually a pretty fun adventure book, and I think grubby kids everywhere will sympathise with Maddy. But I think it’s interesting to point out that it’s a child’s book written by an author used to writing for adults, and that there is a strong underlying theme there. It will still make you think, although if you don’t want to think that’s fine too.
I am excited to read the sequels, although I don’t have many hopes–in my limited experience with Joanne Harris, she writes great stand-alone books and annoying sequels. But we shall see. And, for all of the Avengers Fans: Yes, Loki is in here, and yes, he might as well be a red-headed Tom Hiddleston. Feel free to imagine him as such.
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Disclaimer: The synopsis and cover picture were pulled from the book’s Goodreads page. Neither belong to us.