By Joanne Harris\
Published by Corgi
ISBN 978 0 552 56474 8
If you're a fan of ancient gods and enjoy stories about their power struggles and the mayhem, both human and divine, that follows, then Joanne Harris' new young adult novel is just for you.
Runelight is the sequel to Harris' Runemarks, and is an epic story built around ancient Norse mythology, with all the old favourites, like Thor and Loki, playing crucial roles.
The action starts in Inland, a part of the nine worlds that exist - but only just - in the branches of the World Tree. Thor, the Thunderer, is determined to regain the power that the gods once held, and rule the nine worlds, but it's not going to be easy. Odin, the leader of the gods, is now known as Dorian Scattergood, a local pig farmer who doesn't seem interested in the old ways.
Harris has taken the incredibly helpful step of writing a foreword and including a list of gods and other characters. The background to the fictional tale she is about to tell is complicated, with gods and battles and conflicts all over the place, and the couple of pages of introduction quickly fill in the story so far.
All the gods were meant to die in Ragnarok, a sort of Doomsday; but in Harris' Norse world, they didn't. But Thor still has his work cut out getting the gods back to power because there's another prophecy the world will end in 12 days' time. He'd better get a move on if he wants to rebuild Asgard, the home of the gods, before time runs out.
But this story isn't all about the immortals. Maddy and Maggie, two seemingly unrelated girls, live hundreds of miles apart in Inland.
As the end of the world draws closer, and the gods ratchet up their survival plans, the girls are brought together to face a destiny neither of them could have suspected.
The pair are, in fact, Thor's twin daughters - the only clue to their relationship a runemark, or magic sign, each has on their body. Both have their part to play in the ensuing battle.
Runelight is a massive book, almost 600 pages long, despite the story spanning less than a fortnight; it does take some commitment to get through to the end. But the story is packed with detail, characters and plot twists, and fantasy readers will lap it all up. Be aware, though, that this is very much a novel for established fans of the genre, not a light lead into a new type of fiction for a novice.
Take a deep breath, get ready for a bit of a climb, then launch into this chunk of dense but worth-it-in-the end fantasy fiction.
John Millen can be contacted on MillenBookshelf@aol.com