by Joanne Harris
First sentence: “Seven o’clock on a Monday morning, five hundred years after the End of the World, and goblins had been at the cellar again.”
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Maddy Smith is basically a nondescript resident of the small village of Malbry in the Middle Worlds. Except for the runemark on her hand, which brands her a bit of an outcast, but she doesn’t pay that much attention. She has no friends, except for a wandering traveler that goes by the name of One-Eye whom she only sees once a year at Harvest time.
Then, one day when she’s fourteen, her world shifts: all the things she’s been taught to believe about the Order and the Word — the religious organization that rules the Middle World — are put into question. The End of the World was just a new beginning, and there are powers she has that she never knew. One-Eye sends Maddy on an adventure that will lead to a new end and a new beginning for everyone.
If that sounds really confusing, don’t worry: it is really confusing to summarize this huge, 521 page, fantasy. It’s based on Norse mythology, something which I found fascinating, and is quite impossible to summarize. It’s a sprawling fantasy, in the Grand High Fantasy style: adventure, twists, turns, multi-perspectives, and even a somewhat confusing ending. It’s got it all. Maddy is an interesting main character to follow through the world; she ends up being a very powerful character, but because of her age and innocence, she’s not quite in tune with all the subtleties of the world. It helps guide the reader through some complex mythology and relationships between the old gods which helps with the flow of the book. It takes a while to sink into the rhythm of the world, and the pacing of the novel, but once the adventure truly gets underway it’s enough to keep you involved and interested.
It also felt very Neil Gaiman-esque. I can’t quite pinpoint why: perhaps it’s because it’s so sprawling, or perhaps because it’s just got that dark, gritty undertone that Gaiman is known far. Whatever the reason, it reminded me of Gaiman’s work, which is never a bad thing.
That said, I don’t think I truly loved it. It was interesting, and I’m glad I read it, but it was lacking that spark to make it truly great.