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Thrilling epic for experienced fantasy readers.

What parents need to know


Lots of fantasy violence, some a bit gory. A man is beaten into unconsciousness, hit in the shoulder by a crossbolt, stabbed, and slashed; a wolf rips out a man's throat. The characters experience gruesome visions of torment in the Underworld.

Not applicable

"Bitch" and "bastard" used infrequently; "bulls--t" is said once.

Not applicable
Drinking, drugs, & smoking

References to drinking and drunkenness, pipe smoking.

Parents Need to Know

Parents need to know that this story has, like the Norse mythology upon which it's based, moments of rather grim violence. There's also some swearing and references to drinking, drunkenness, and pipe smoking.

What's the story?

"Five hundred years after the End of the World," Maddy is growing up an outcast in her small village, where magic is present but forbidden and ignored. But in her friendship with a one-eyed vagrant, she first discovers that she has magic of her own, and then that she is at the center of a battle among the Norse gods, resurgent powers, and the Nine Worlds for control of the universe, a war that didn't end when the world did. Includes maps, character list, and list of runes.

Is it any good?


You have to admire an author who can think big. As armies clash and worlds collide across the infinite plains of Hel, you'll be reminded of other great epic fantasies: Tolkien's Lord of the Rings, or Pullman's His Dark Materials. This may not be on quite the same level as those classics, lacking their propulsive motion along a clear path, but it has their epic scope and exciting grandeur.

Every mythology has its own unique mood and consciousness. If Greek myth has the clarity of the Aegean light, and Egyptian myth the shifting aspect of desert sands, Norse myth has the fuzziness and confusion of the bleak, cold darkness of northern wastes. Readers will get more out of this if they have some familiarity with Norse mythology, but even so, as the worlds of Dream and Chaos impinge on Order, much is left unclear. Still, it's a wild ride with an appealing protagonist, and this post-Ragnarok mash-up will have experienced readers gleefully buzzing through its more than 500 pages.

Families can talk about...

  • Families can talk about the Norse myths upon which this book is based. What is Yggdrasil? How are the Nine Worlds organized? Has the author stayed true to the myths, or has she changed them? See the recommended list section below for some places to start.

Book details

Author:Joanne Harris
Book type:Fiction
Publisher:Alfred A. Knopf
Publication date:January 8, 2008
Number of pages:526

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Kid, 11 years old August 18, 2010

An amazing story!

I have just found a personal favorite!!! Totally AMA-zing!!!! Maddy is an incredibly real character, I can't believe this isn't a biography -- only if this new and intriguing kind of magic introduced by Ms. Joanne Harris exists of course! I definitely felt like I'd known Maddy my whole life by the time I was done reading this. Runemarks is going to be more interesting to kids who have read and are interested in Norse mythology. I personally was extremely glad that I am very familiar with it. I did find it quite obvious who some characters (namely "One-Eye" and "Lucky" as they claim to be called) were going to be. So in that case part of the surprise was gone. I feel that although the main character, Maddy, is female, four other important supporting characters -"One-Eye", "Lucky", Mimar, or "The Whisperer", and Sugar, the goblin -are male, so I feel that both boys and girls will like it. I particularly enjoyed how the author fit in so many characters from Norse mythology, but I wish she had taken more time developing most of them.
What other families should know
Educational value
Kid, 11 years old February 19, 2013

awesome book

I Think it was a good book to read but it had some language . this is a good book to learn about the old Norse gods and there language.
What other families should know
Educational value
Too much swearing
Parent of a 7 and 9 year old Written bypeony April 4, 2009

For strong readers who are Norse myth fans

For those with an interest in Norse mythology, this could be a lot of fun. For others, it may be just a bit too long and insufficiently engaging. To my taste, less would have been more in terms of using fewer of the Norse gods but developing their characters more -- as it is, there are lots of the gods but only a few get enough time to get much of a feel for their characters, and the rest just end up seeming like rather irritatingly quarrelsome flat figures. So while interesting, I didn't find the book fully satisfying. But there's where more familiarity with Norse mythology would probably aid in enjoyment. There's not much to be concerned about for ages 9 or 10 or so: the most bothersome aspect being the extensive visions of the torments of the dead in the underworld -- that does get pretty nasty. Other than that, the violence is not too much -- fairly typical for fantasy. And I hardly noticed the drinking or smoking the CSM reviewer mentions. So I'll say okay for ages 10+, though I think at the younger end of that range it would be only readers with particular interest who'd enjoy it.