Book Review: Runemarks by Joanne Harris

I remember when I had the pleasure of reading Runemarks, a fantasy novel by Joanne Harris. I’m always on the lookout for new and exciting books in the fantasy genre, and Runemarks definitely delivered. In this review, I’ll give you an overview of the plot and share my thoughts on what I enjoyed most about the book.

Runemarks by Joanne Harris

AuthorJoanne Harris
GenreFantasy, Fiction
Publication DateAugust 21, 2007
Length526 pages

Where to Purchase

An Overview of the Story

Runemarks tells the story of Maddy, a young girl born with a runemark on her hand. In the world of the Seven Realms where Maddy lives, runemarks are seen as a sign that someone has an affinity for old magic and the runes. This is frowned upon, as magic has been outlawed for the last 300 years by the Order, a powerful religious group that controls the Seven Realms.

Because of her runemark, Maddy has been shunned her whole life by the people of her village. She has found solace in studying the runes and secretly practicing magic. When we first meet Maddy, she has befriended the outlaws of World’s End, a forbidden area outside of the Order’s control. After the murder of one of her friends, Maddy sets out on a quest to find the lost runes and avenge his death by awakening an ancient power.

Accompanied by her companions – a sardonic dwarf named Sugar-and-Sack and a snarky, one-eyed raven named Odin – Maddy’s journey takes her across the fantastical lands of the Seven Realms. She contends with giants, goblins, talking dragons, and the agents of the Order who are trying to stop her. Along the way, she learns more about the history of the runes, the Order’s rise to power, and ultimately, how to embrace her own long-suppressed magical abilities.

What I Loved About This Book

Magical World Building

One of my favorite aspects of any good fantasy novel is immersive world building, and Runemarks delivers. Harris paints a vivid picture of the Seven Realms, blending recognizable elements like Vikings, Norse mythology, and runes with imaginative details. I loved picturing the domed city of Asgard, the World’s End wasteland, and the various creatures Maddy encounters. Harris’ world feels well-developed and easy to visualize.

Unique Magic System

The magic system in Runemarks is also really inventive. Runes are seen as dangerous and powerful, with each one representing a different concept or entity. Maddy learns to access the runes’ magic through memorization, meditation, and even blood sacrifices. I’m a sucker for a unique magic system, and unraveling the secrets of the runes along with Maddy was fascinating. Harris’ knowledge of Norse legends shines here.

A Relatable Protagonist

As much as I enjoyed the world building, the highlight of Runemarks for me was Maddy herself. She’s an immediately sympathetic character – an outsider thirsting for knowledge and a greater purpose. Her curiosity, integrity, intelligence and sarcastic sense of humor made her a protagonist I truly cared about. Seeing Maddy come into her own and gain confidence in herself and her powers was incredibly rewarding.

Thoughtful Commentary

While suitable for young adult readers, Runemarks also tackles some deeper themes. The Order’s authoritarian control and religious orthodoxy is an interesting villain, which prompts discussions about knowledge, conformity, and challenging the status quo. Maddy’s personal struggle to understand her identity and hidden talents resonates as well. For a fantasy adventure, the book prompted me to think more than I expected.

An Engaging Page-Turner

Lastly, Runemarks is simply a fun and enjoyable read. The pacing clips along, balancing action scenes with Maddy’s introspective journey. The humor and rapport between Maddy, Sugar-and-Sack and Odin provide plenty of laughs as well. The mysteries surrounding the runes and Maddy’s quest kept me eager to turn the pages long into the night.

Final Thoughts

For fans of fantasy books with creative world building, memorable characters and a dash of Norse mythology, I’d definitely recommend picking up Runemarks. Harris crafts an enthralling tale that kept me entertained and engaged from the first chapter to the last. I’m excited to dive into the other books in the Runemarks series soon to spend more time with Maddy and her magical companions. Runemarks is an imaginative coming-of-age story that both young adult and adult readers can enjoy.


  • Paula Davis

    Paula Davis is a dedicated and seasoned content writer for Dreaming and Reading, where she brings her extensive knowledge and passion for literature to a wide audience of fellow book enthusiasts. With the heart of a true bookworm, Paula has immersed herself in the literary world, devouring approximately 50 books annually for the last 15 years. This impressive reading habit has not only provided her with immense joy but has also significantly honed her expertise, experience, authoritativeness, and trustworthiness in the realm of book reviews. Her insightful and well-crafted reviews reflect her deep understanding and appreciation of various genres, offering valuable guidance to readers in search of their next great read. With a finger always on the pulse of the latest literary releases, Paula Davis is a trusted voice and a go-to source for book recommendations and reviews.

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