Monday, November 12, 2012

Review: Runelight by Joanne Harris, Book 2 of the Runemarks Series

 Maddy, child of Thor, the Lightening Ash is torn between her new, adoptive family, the Aesir and the new revelation of her twin sister, Maggie.

Maggie, raised in World’s End, a child of the Order, has strict, unflinching beliefs that have not relaxed as World’s End succumbed to chaos and disorder. She knows what is right and has strong beliefs – including in the rune-marked demons that once plagued the world. The same rune marked demons that are her family. Her world turned upside down by the discovery of her rune and her power, she becomes caught up in the plotting of Mimir the Wise, the Whisperer and his quest for power and grudge against the Aesir.

The Aesir and the Vanir must make a strange deal with the forces of chaos that once brought them down in Ragnarok and make the long and difficult trip down to Worlds End with very little time to do it in.

And the end of days are coming again. The freeing of Sleipnir has caused the river Dream to overflow it’s banks and Malbury is in danger of falling to its waters. Three riders must ride forth, Carnage, Treachery and Lunacy, signalling the end of the world – again.

If everything goes according to plan, Asgard will rise again – but who will be its master? Or will chaos consume everything?

There was so much about this book I loved.

I love Norse mythology. I’ve said before that I’m a mythology geek and seeing the Aesir and the Vanir in all their glory in a story is always going to hook me in. And not just the Aesir and the Vanir – but Mjolnir personified? Fenris, Hati and Skol with human aspects? Hunin and Munin? This book was designed to hook me in.

Throw in an epic quest to rebuild Asgard, a prophecy and a world that has been turned on its head and you have a great story to tell with it. A lost child coming to terms with her power, Maddy, our hero from the last book, torn between her sister and her new family. The Dream unleashed, Sleipnir walking the skies, chaos stalking everything, ready to destroy all. New runs, new powers, new gods and, of course, the intricate and crafty plans of the gods themselves. I do love some cunning plotting.

And there’s Loki. There’s always a lot to be said for Loki. And this is a very unique take on Loki – not Loki the deceiver or even Loki the manipulator. This is Loki the unlucky, poor Loki the often put upon, Loki the trickster with a brilliant and quick mind but without a great many fans – and Thor always ready to hammer him.

The problem with this book is how very long it took to tell that story. We had several storylines: Maddy and Perth; the Aesir and the Vanir; Maggie, Adam and the Whisperer and always poor Loki. But they took a long long time to get anywhere. This book is over 500 pages and covers a span of about 10 days and a lot of that time is spent being rather repetitive. The Aesir and the Vanir are bickering (I wanted to see more of the Aesir and the Vanir, get a greater sense of them – especially since I’m a mythology geek and just loved having them all around – including members we don’t often see. But it was just one long argument). Maggie is torn between her beliefs, Adam and her family and Maddie torn between her long lost sister and her loyalty to the Aesir. All interesting concepts, but we return to them time and again to find them wandering endlessly in circles each in their own storyline, thinking on it, but not developing it. It felt like a lot of passing the time was going on.

Maggie was also a character that didn’t appeal to me at all. She has her Order beliefs and her Aesir heritage and the Whisperer trying to manipulate her and her ridiculously fast crush on Adam (I am so tired of the “love at first sight” or “love after a few days” stories)  didn’t connect with me at all. I can see how all of it could happen to create this character who was simultaneously too trusting and too cynical, who was desperate for affection but too stubborn to listen to the challenges to her world view – but it didn’t make for a character who was appealing. Most aggravating of all was her constant devotion and love of Adam after little reason and despite considerable indications that he’s not the best catch in the world. Yes, it’s a crush and yes she has been affection starved so it’s understandable – but that didn’t stop me cursing every time we turned back to him and, sadly, every time we told more of Maggie’s story.

Inclusionwise, again, we had no POC and no GBLT characters – a common thread with historical-themed books. Maddie and Maggie are both strong characters in their way, though both continually manipulated – but they are manipulated partly because they are valuable. Maggie dances very much to the Whisperer’s tune – but Maddy always resists orders for the sake of orders and questions instructions even from the most beloved sources. Though she does end up dancing the same tune anyway, but it’s for good reason and doing what she wants anyway. She doesn’t accept “just because”. The other female characters are diverse and contrast and balance each other well: for every vain and shallow Frejya, there’s a kind and caring Idun. For the naïve and foolish Idun and Sigyn, there’s the cunning and powerful Angroboda, for every bad tempered, reactionary Sif, there’s the calm and collected Frigg/Ethel.

I do have to mention “Crazy” Nan. A woman who has lived her life in dreams and old stories, who, perhaps, doesn’t have all her wits about her in her old age. Yet she dreams with enormous power, she saves her community, she rides the horse of air and carried the rune of the Builder and is one of the chief architects of the ending. I don’t like any character being demeaned as “crazy” but in the end she shows her strength and her power, doing what the Aesir and the Vanir could not.

In the end, an interesting book and concept is just dragged down by the pacing of it. It’s 500 pages, the story could have been told in 300, maybe even less. The ending was very satisfying and made me very happy with just how cunning the gods were – but it happened far too late to me. The end result was not one of triumph or satisfaction, but one of deep relief that the meandering had finally reached an end. It’s sad and makes me rethink the last book – did the originality of that book and my geeky pleasure over Norse mythology cause me to overlook the dreadfully long  pre-amble? It’s a shame, I wanted to love this book, I was trying to force myself to love this book but, in the end, it was a fight not to skim it.