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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 on January 8, 2008

by Joanne Harris

  • Publication Date: January 8, 2008
  • Genres: Fiction
  • Hardcover: 544 pages
  • Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers
  • ISBN-10: 0375844449
  • ISBN-13: 9780375844447