In Norse myth the whole world ended with Ragnarók, the last battle, at which the gods were defeated and after which eternal winter descended. In her highly successful first children's novel, however, the author of the bestselling Chocolattells readers what happened next. The supposed end of all things is now centuries past and the Middle World is ruled by the Order, a repressive theocracy reminiscent of the Magisterium in Philip Pullman's The Golden Compass. Maddy, born with a rune of power on her hand, is deeply unpopular in her backwoods village. Thorny and imaginative, she is believed to be a witch by the locals who would have cast her out long ago if she didn't have a convenient talent for controlling the goblins that infest their cellars. Such creatures are thick in the village because of its proximity to Red Horse Hill, a place of ancient power. Then Maddy's life is transformed when she meets first One-Eye, a mysterious traveler who agrees to train her in the ways of Faërie, and then Lucky, the trickster captain of the goblins under the hill. Throughout, Harris demonstrates a knack for moving seamlessly between the serious and the comic, and her lengthy book moves swiftly. Playing fast and loose with Norse mythology, she creates a glorious and complex world replete with rune-basedmagical spells, bickering gods, exciting adventures and difficult moral issues. Maddy's destiny, readers realize, is to remake the world, but to succeed she must first remake herself into someone worthy of that fate. Ages 10-up. (Jan.)Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
AGERANGE: Ages 11 to 15.
The people of Malbry have long suspected that Maddy Smith is a witch, but no one--not even Maddy--knows just how much power she possesses. Magically mentored by the mysterious One-Eye, Maddy begins to understand the power of the runes she can control and send out into the world. So when One-Eye asks Maddy to accompany him to the World Below, she sees the trip as an exciting challenge and an opportunity to better understand her own powers. At the entrance to the World Below, though, One-Eye claims that he cannot follow her and that she must go and find the treasure on her own. So starts Maddy's journey into the land of the Norse gods: Odin, Freyja, Skadi, Thor and, of course, the notorious trickster Loki. Maddy is successful in the first part of her journey--to find the Whisperer/Oracle--but when her travels force her into an uneasy partnership with Loki, the adventure turns more dangerous. Soon, Maddy realizes that every god she encounters wants to kill Loki and take the Oracle for him or herself. Maddy also has another puzzle to figure out: her true identity and those of her parents. For students looking for a fantasy from a Norse perspective, this book will serve well. The characters are well-defined and the adventures believable, creating a sense of tension that lasts right up to the final chapter. Reviewer: Jean Boreen, Ph.D.
Children's Literature - Kristina Cassidy
Maddy Smith has always known that she does not fit in. The other villagers have always distrusted her because of the "runemark" on her hand; but they also depend on her to deal with the strange occurrences that have plagued the village since her birth. At first Maddy believed that she was marked by evil, but then she met One Eye, a traveler who showed her how to use magic and told her stories of the Elder Age long ago. When Maddy is fourteen and an expert magic user, One Eye misses his usual visit to Malbry. When he does arrive, One Eye brings ominous news. The mysterious Nameless, the god which has ruled since Ragnarok, is bent on ruling the nine worlds and destroying the fragile balance between Order and Chaos. Maddy sets off on a quest to find the Whisperer, a mysterious power that could help her save the worldsor destroy them. The story draws substantially from Norse mythology. How rune magic works is not fully explored, but Maddy and other characters rely heavily on its use. While Maddy is both clever and selfless, the numerous god characters are extremely selfish in their actions and cunning in hiding their true goals. Readers familiar with Norse myth are likely to spot major plot twists long before they are revealed, but overall the climax of the plot is satisfying. Sile Bermingham's performance of the text is engaging, but her choice of Irish accents for some of the gods is a bit jarring. Teachers and parents should be aware of occasional profanity and several episodes of graphic violence. Reviewer: Kristina Cassidy
School Library Journal
Gr 7 Up
In this fantasy set "five hundred years after the End of the World," after the battle of Ragnarok, as predicted by Norse mythology, anything imaginative or magical is taboo. Fourteen-year-old Maddy Smith has a strange birthmark on her hand. A wanderer called One-Eye tells her that what she has is a runemark, and he teaches her about magic and the legends of the Aesir and Vanir. When Maddy's powers awake sleeping magic, she discovers that the legends are true and that she has an important role to play in the next battle between good and evil. Aided and opposed by a variety of gods, goblins, and humans, she learns the truth about herself as she tries to find the truth about her world. Harris has created a realistic and detailed world, and the action scenes are both vivid and engrossing. Maddy's abilities develop in a logical manner while her youth and naïveté contrast strongly with the age and wisdom of One-Eye and Loki, her companions on her quest. This epic-strength novel may bring as much attention to Norse legends as Rick Riordan's "Percy Jackson and the Olympians" series (Hyperion/Miramax) has to their Greek neighbors, and fantasy enthusiasts will find much to enjoy in this complex tale.
Beth L. MeisterCopyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
The Lightning Thief meets The Sea of Trolls in this well-executed, if rather plodding children's debut by the author of the adult novel, Chocolat. In a world where the intolerant "Order" has deemed the old Norse myths as blasphemous, village misfit Maddy Smith discovers she is the daughter of the Norse god Thor. Guided by Loki and advised by Odin, Maddy travels to the "World Below" to try and thwart the prophesied war between the old gods and the new. The heroes win the day, but at least one villain escapes, hinting at a sequel. Unfortunately, Harris's determination to include just about every Norse god in her narrative brings Maddy's quest to a standstill at times. Some youngsters not well-versed in Odin's family tree may find the discussion of the gods' past grudges confusing, while others will be inspired to dig out their old copy of D'Aulaires' Norse Gods and Giants to refresh their memories of the Vanir and Aesir. A mini-course in Norse mythology for the tween set. (Fiction. 10-14)
From the Publisher
Starred Review, Publishers Weekly (circ: 34,456), November 19, 2007:
"[Harris] creates a glorious and complex world replete with rune-based magical spells, bickering gods, exciting adventures and difficult moral issues."
From the Hardcover edition.
Read an Excerpt
Seven o'clock on a Monday morning, five hundred years after the End of the World, and goblins had been at the cellar again. Mrs. Scattergood-the landlady at the Seven Sleepers Inn-swore it was rats, but Maddy Smith knew better. Only goblins could have burrowed into the brick-lined floor, and besides, as far as she knew, rats didn't drink ale.
But she also knew that in the village of Malbry-as in the whole of the Strond Valley-certain things were never discussed, and that included anything curious, uncanny, or unnatural in any way. To be imaginative was considered almost as bad as giving oneself airs, and even dreams were hated and feared, for it was through dreams (or so the Good Book said) that the Seer-folk had crossed over from Chaos, and it was in Dream that the power of the Faerie remained, awaiting its chance to re-enter the world.
And so the folk of Malbry made every effort never to dream. They slept on boards instead of mattresses, avoided heavy evening meals, and as for telling bedtime tales-well. The children of Malbry were far more likely to hear about the martyrdom of St. Sepulchre or the latest Cleansings from World's End than tales of magic or of World Below. Which is not to say that magic didn't happen. In fact, over the past fourteen years the village of Malbry had witnessed more magic in one way or another than anyplace in the Middle Worlds.
That was Maddy's fault, of course. Maddy Smith was a dreamer, a teller of tales, and worse, and as such, she was used to being blamed for anything irregular that happened in the village. If a bottle of beer fell off a shelf, if the cat got into the creamery, if Adam Scattergood threw a stone at a stray dog and hit a window instead-ten to one Maddy would get the blame.
And if she protested, folk would say that she'd always had a troublesome nature, that their ill luck had begun the day she was born, and that no good would ever come of a child with a ruinmark-that rusty sign on the Smith girl's hand- which some oldsters called the Witch's Ruin and which no amount of scrubbing would remove.
It was either that or blame the goblins-otherwise known as Good Folk or Faerie-who this summer had upped their antics from raiding cellars and stealing sheep (or occasionally painting them blue) to playing the dirtiest kind of practical jokes, like leaving horse dung on the church steps, or putting soda in the communion wine to make it fizz, or turning the vinegar to piss in all the jars of pickled onions in Joe Grocer's store.
And since hardly anyone dared to mention them, or even acknowledge that they existed at all, Maddy was left to deal with the vermin from under the Hill alone and in her own way.
No one asked her how she did it. No one watched the Smith girl at work. And no one ever called her witch-except for Adam Scattergood, her employer's son, a fine boy in some ways but prone to foul language when the mood took him.
Besides, they said, why speak the word? That ruinmark surely spoke for itself.
Now Maddy considered the rust-colored mark. It looked like a letter or sigil of some kind, and sometimes it shone faintly in the dark or burned as if something hot had pressed there. It was burning now, she saw. It often did when the Good Folk were near, as if something inside her were restless and itched to be set free.
That summer, it had itched more often than ever, as the goblins swarmed in unheard-of numbers, and banishing them was one way of putting that itch to rest. Her other skills remained unused and, for the most part, untried, and though sometimes that was hard to bear-like having to pretend you're not hungry when your favorite meal is on the table-Maddy understood why it had to be so.
Cantrips and runecharms were bad enough. But glamours, true glamours, were perilous business, and if rumor of these were to reach World's End, where the servants of the Order worked day and night in study of the Word . . .
For Maddy's deepest secret-known only to her closest friend, the man folk knew as One-Eye-was that she enjoyed working magic, however shameful that might be. More than that, she thought she might be good at it too and, like anyone with a talent, longed to make use of it and to show it off to other people.
But that was impossible. At best it counted as giving herself airs.
And at worst? Folk had been Cleansed for less.
Maddy turned her attention to the cellar floor and the wide-mouthed burrow that disfigured it. It was a goblin burrow, all right, bigger and rather messier than a foxhole and still bearing the marks of clawed, thick-soled feet where the spilled earth had been kicked over. Rubble and bricks had been piled in a corner, roughly concealed beneath a stack of empty kegs. Maddy thought, with some amusement, that it must have been a lively-and somewhat drunken-party.
Filling in the burrow would be easy, she thought. The tricky thing, as always, was to ensure it stayed that way. or, the Protector, had been enough to secure the church doors, but goblins had been known to be very persistent where ale was concerned, and she knew that in this case, a single charm would not keep them out for long.
All right, then. Something more.
From the Hardcover edition.