Book Review: Runemarks

runemarks

Runemarks – Joanne M. Harris
Published by Hachette New Zealand, 2016

In a world where magic and mystery are outlawed, Maddy has always been an outsider. With the strange marking on her hand and her unusual abilities, she’s mistrusted and feared by ‘normal’ folk.

But Maddy’s life is about to change. From learning about the ways of the old gods, to travelling into World Below and meeting the infamous trickster, Loki, Maddy must embark on a journey the likes of which she has never imagined.

As the powers of Chaos and Order prepare for a war to end all wars, it is Maddy who unknowingly holds the key to the Worlds’ survival.

I have a few Joanne Harris novels on my bookshelf: Chocolat, Blackberry Wine, Five Quarters of the Orange, Coastliners and Holy Fools. All are quite different and quirky, but there’s a similarity in tone or plot that links them, in my mind, to each other. However, none of them are like Runemarks at all; if you’d covered the author’s name and asked me to guess at who wrote it, I certainly wouldn’t have guessed at Joanne Harris.

But here’s the thing: I loved romantic, whimsical Chocolat, and found Blackberry Wine tantalising in its point of view (first person, as a bottle of wine)…and was so gripped by Runemarks that I read until close to midnight on more than one occasion. Very different genres, very different styles, and very different stories, but with one thing in common: very, very good.

With Runemarks, Harris has created a world – nine, to be exact – full of magic and mystery, where a host of characters from Norse mythology mingle with common folk who are terrified of magic. I have a basic knowledge of Norse mythology, so felt familiar with the main players (specifically Odin, Loki and Thor), and found it interesting to learn more about them. I especially liked Harris’ Loki, the Trickster; he was one of those characters that I was instantly drawn too, despite his history of treachery and deceit. I found Maddy, our common heroine,┬áto be far more mature than her 14 years should suggest, but her character was likeable if a little predictable at times.

The story started out slowly, but picked up pace about five chapters in and then┬áraced along at heart-stopping, breath-quickening pace. It was exciting and compelling, and nerve-wracking in parts; a page-turner that I struggled to put down because I couldn’t wait to find out what happened next. There were a few predictable plot-twists, but some that I didn’t see coming until they were about to happen. It was a cleverly crafted story, and has left me wanting more (which I will find, in the form of Runelight, and The Gospel of Loki). Fantasy isn’t usually a genre I go for, and I’ve certainly not read many mythical fantasy novels (if any!), but Runemarks was a pleasant introduction and a happy surprise.

Thank you to Hachette for my review copy, and for the opportunity to experience so many amazing books over the past couple of years!

Book Review: Who’s Afraid?

Who's Afraid?

Who’s Afraid? – Maria Lewis
Published by Hachette New Zealand, Jan 2016

Tommi Grayson’s never exactly been a normal girl. Bright blue hair, a mysterious past and barely controlled rage issues have a way of making a woman stand out. Yet she’s never come close to guessing who she really is…

Who’s Afraid? is the debut novel of New Zealand-born, Australia-based Maria Lewis. Described as a “fresh, witty, compelling tale with a pop culture edge”, this is a book that will see you turning your light off way past your bedtime, then leaping onto your bed for fear that something is lurking underneath. Fantasy isn’t my usual genre, but this is a different type of fantasy. It’s got an urban, supernatural vibe, mixed with elements of Maori culture, pop culture and contemporary life.

After the tragic death of her mother, Tommi Grayson leaves Scotland on a mission to track down her father in New Zealand, where she discovers that her heritage is much more complicated than her mother led her to believe. Her father was the head of a powerful Maori werewolf pack, and his family want to recruit her as one of their own.

Tommi escapes the pack, and returns to Scotland, accompanied by a Counsellor provided to her by an ancient governing body; Lorcan’s job is to help Tommi control and adjust to her werewolf self, making sure she transitions safely each full moon.

  • I couldn’t help comparing blue-haired Tommi to another blue-haired heroine I love, but as the story and characters developed, I lost the comparison. Tommi initially comes across as tough, unemotional and staunch, but we see a more mature and emotional side of her as the tale unfolds. The rest of the characters were strongly written; it’s a small cast, but a mostly likable one, and the relationships between them were also very believable.
  • Lewis’ writing style developed and matured along with Tommi’s character; I initially felt it was a bit stilted, but there was a chattiness to her writing that made it very easy to read and it moved along at a delectable pace.
  • The supernatural world that Tommi suddenly found herself part of was cleverly and casually unfolded rather than explained via a long-winded monologue by Lorcan or any other character (one aspect of fantasy fiction that usually puts me off)
  • There were gory fight scenes, a handful of bedroom encounters, and an attempted assault, all of which were much more explicit than I expected, but not difficult to read. There were a few expletives, so if swearing and hanky-panky in a novel isn’t your thing, this book might not be for you.
  • There were surprises along the way (when an author kills off some of the most loveable characters, that’s when you sit up and take notice), including the way the book ended – but that only indicates that there are more Tommi Grayson tales to come.