I think we have established over the course of this blog how much I enjoy a good post-apocalyptic novel. I seem to love any world which exists because of the traumatic ending of the one before it and am endlessly fascinated by the people who learn to cope with the transformation. Of course, almost all of the worlds which have ended are familiar to me – the Wool trilogy, Station Eleven, Justin Cronin’s Passage trilogy and the Mandibles are all about the end of the world which I live in. Western, modern worlds with very realistic economics, cultures and sociopolitical structures – the thrill of these stories is partly that they just may become true in the near future. And I suspect I mean thrill in an ‘oh my god, we’re all going to die’ kind of way…
When it comes to apocalypses, however, I think we can agree that Ragnarök is probably the daddy of them all. All the gods killed, all the worlds drowned and then reborn to be repopulated by just two human survivors. That’s pretty final. However, in Joanne Harris’ Runemarks it turns out that Ragnarök, while being pretty disastrous for Loki, Thor, Freya and the rest of the Norse deities, wasn’t quite so bad for humanity. After five centuries they have what seems like a fairly good life with farms, families and futures. They have, however, replaced magic, dreams and imagination for order. And not just order but Order – a new regime to replace that of the old gods with one which the Puritans might think a little harsh. In this world we meet Maddy Smith, who bears a ruinmark – a mark of the old gods – and who discovers an ability to use magic frowned upon by her society (although it is winked at if it keeps the goblins out of the beer cellar).
This book swiftly moves from Maddy’s life in the village into the world of the gods themselves (who were not so much dead as sleeping/incognito/generally keeping a low profile). We learn all about their rivalries and battles (surely it isn’t a spoiler to say that pretty much all of them want to hurt Loki in more or less imaginative ways?) and about the prophecies which could still come true. There is drama and intrigue and a final battle which could have greater consequences than Ragnarök itself. This is a great book for anyone with an interest in Norse mythology and would probably be particularly good for younger readers wanting to move on from Rick Riordan and Kate O’Hearn.