About Runelight

Runelight is the second book of what (with luck) may turn out to be the Runemarks series, a fantasy set in a world that bears some similarity to our own, assuming our civilization had been shaped, not by the Romans, but by the Viking invaders instead.

I started Runemarks as a bedtime story for my daughter. It’s different to my “other” books, and it was published as a children’s novel, though that’s not quite how I see it. I think of these books as tales for all ages, which is terrific, because Runemarks fans are an interesting lot, defying categorization. They are also quite a vocal lot (as I’ve found from my message board), and to them I offer my heartfelt apologies that the sequel to Runemarks has taken so long for me to finish. As some of you already know, I left a lot of loose ends untied. I left my heroes on the brink of disaster, having narrowly escaped the End of the Worlds, but homeless, mostly powerless, bereaved and bloody, but unbowed.

This video is by Anna D, see more videos by Runelight and Runemarks readers: Eleanor Ford and Kaitlin Kemp.


Q: So do I need to read Runemarks first?

It helps, but it isn’t necessary. For a summary, read here. Or better still, just buy the book…

Q: How much do I need to know about Norse gods and mythology?

Not much: readers usually find they pick things up as they go along. Although if you’d like to know more about Norse gods, their adventures and the Worlds they believed in, we’ll be adding a few links here, very soon.

Q: What happens in Runelight?

The story of Runemarks continues. Four years have gone by since the End of the Worlds. Maddy is nearly seventeen. The Order has been destroyed, with some unforeseen consequences. World’s End, the Order’s stronghold, has been overrun by traders, thieves and Outlanders, and lawlessness is rife everywhere.

In Malbry, Chaos is also rife. The rescue of the old gods from the Black Fortress of Netherworld caused a rift between the Worlds, which, four years later, continues to release its creatures – demons and ephemera – into World Above.

The surviving gods are all that stands between this rift in Chaos and the inhabitants of World Above. Divided by petty differences, robbed of most of their powers, missing their leader and forced to live among the Folk of Inland, the gods of Asgard are poorly equipped to re-establish Order. And yet, if the Middle Worlds are to survive, that’s exactly what they must do.

With an old adversary bent on revenge; a renegade from their own ranks; a girl with the mark of destiny and a prophecy announcing the End of the Worlds in twelve days, Maddy and her companions are faced with their mightiest challenge yet – to rebuild Asgard, the Sky Citadel, in time to confront the enemy…

Read An Extract from Runelight

Read and Interview with Joanne about Runelight and Runemarks
(Part 1 of a longer interview from – the other parts will follow in due course)

Maddy’s World

Click on the images for
larger versions of these
maps of Maddy’s World

Media Reviews

Runemarks reviews from the US and UK.

Hugin and Munin
Fanart by Leonie

Publishers’ Weekly
Harris demonstrates a knack for moving seamlessly between the serious and the comic, and her lengthy book moves swiftly.

School Library Journal
Fantasy enthusiasts will find much to enjoy in this complex tale.

The Los Angeles Times – Sonja Bolle
Harris keeps it all spinning with luscious detail and a firm grasp of the mythic implications of all the shifting relationships.

The Guardian – Kathryn Hughes
Harris’s great skill lies in pulling back every time her creation veers towards the portentous, that is to say the Tolkienesque ….

The Times – Nicolette Jones
Especially enjoyable are Harris’s aphorisms, her satire of joyless piety, and the comically irreverent vernacular spoken by a dissolute goblin and the trickster god Loki

Charles de Lint says:
“Harris’s old gods are wonderfully realized. Woden, Loki, Hel, Thor…they’re both as we imagined them, and less and more. They have nobility and flaws, they try to do the right thing and think only of themselves. They are, in other words, much like you and me, but still strangely, and wholly different. Highly recommended.”

Stephenie Meyer says:
“I also loved Runemarks by Joanne Harris, a core fantasy much like the stories of David Eddings or Terry Brooks, with a cool twist on Norse mythology.”

Readers (because sometimes the readers speak for themselves.)

Runelight iIllustration by
Russelle Marcato Westbrook

The Guardian Children’s Books Website has a review by a young reader by the name of Valenitne …

13-year-old Nicole says:
“ I do hope she writes a sequel!”

Tamaranth says:
“… the best opening line I’ve read all year…”

Jill Murphy says:
“…energetic, exciting and funny…”

Anastasia says:
“Maddy is a really strong female lead, one who has powerful abilities and isn’t afraid to go off and have her own adventures. She’s also pretty realistic, by which I mean she felt like a real person to me…”

Caroline Hooton says:
“The whole book was a delight from start to finish – I devoured the pages, desperate to find out what happened next…”

Meeka says:
”You know when you forget to eat that a book is good.”

Jonathan says:
“ … a wonderful addition to the rich past of the Norse gods.”

Georgiana says:
“I just finished a book so good I am mildly astonished that I’ve never heard of the author.”

A fan’s dream cast for Runemarks. Now that’s a movie I’d pay to see…

Extras and FAQs

At this point I usually include a series of extras, including new runes, competitions, challenges or questions. Over the next three months or so I’ll keep adding to this section, so any suggestions you’d like to make, now’s the time to make them…

Here’s where you get to ask any more questions you’d like to ask about Runemarks, Runelight, and Maddy’s world. Send them to me via the Contact page.

Q. & A. (Warning: may contain spoilers!)

This book is a bit more “adult” than Runemarks. Was this deliberate?

Not really; but it is a more challenging story in some ways. Perhaps this is because three years have gone by since Runemarks, and Maddy, in growing up, is becoming aware of the world in a different way. Her world has changed because she has.

Why did you choose Maddy as your main protagonist?

I didn’t really. Maddy chose me. She’s been around for a long, long time (see my notes on Witchlight) and while the books are too complex and too full of characters for me to focus on her all the time, for me she’s central to the story. In a book all about old gods, old beliefs and an ever-changing world, Maddy represents the future, a hopeful new generation of gods. Because she was originally born into a human family, Maddy represents humanity, too, and bridges the gap between gods and Folk. In Runemarks she was thirteen. In Runelight, she is sixteen. I’m really enjoying the process of following her into adulthood, of seeing her expand her powers and learn more about herself and her relationships.

What about Maggie? What’s she like?

Maggie Rede is in some ways the mirror-image of Maddy Smith. Like Maddy, she was born among the Folk, but in World’s End, in a family of the Order. She too has a runemark (although she doesn’t know it), and she too is opinionated, feisty, abrasive and tough. But because of how she has been brought up, she hates and despises everything to do with magic, stories or dreams, which she blames for the collapse of the world she knows and for the death of her family. Lonely, isolated and confused, she is only too vulnerable to the kind of offer brought to her by Adam Scattergood, who has an agenda of his own and wants revenge on the Æsir…

Aha! I thought he might turn up. Has the Whisperer also survived?
You hinted he might in Runemarks –

Well spotted! The Whisperer has indeed migrated into Adam, just as he did into Nat Parson. I like the way Adam has grown in this story; in Runemarks he was a spoilt little boy, but in Runelight he is a young man beginning to explore his potential. In some ways he’s a nasty piece of work; deceitful, manipulative and cruel, but I don’t think he’s really a bad guy. Like Loki, he’s constantly battling the dual sides of his nature, which is what makes him a human being and not just a cardboard villain.

I ship Maddy and Loki all the time. Is there any chance of a romance between them?

Anything is possible. But although there’s clearly a latent attraction between these two, I don’t really see romance between them at this point. Maddy knows Loki far too well, and she’s way too smart to be taken in by his wiles and his dubious charm. Besides, although he’s centuries older than she is, Loki would have to grow up quite a lot before he was ready for an adult relationship…

Now I’m disappointed. Isn’t there any romance at all?

Not every plot needs a love story. And for the moment, I quite like the fact that Maddy doesn’t need anyone – too often in books, where the heroine falls in love, it heralds the end of her independence. Having said that, there is a romance in Runelight, and a pretty important one; it just doesn’t involve Maddy on this particular occasion.

Will there be more books in the Runemarks series?

I do hope so. I don’t always find it easy to write these adventures, but I do love Maddy’s world, and I’d like the chance to spend more time there.

When? When?

I don’t know yet. Ask me in a year or two…

Why did you choose to write Loki as a “good guy” when traditionally he’s always been a pretty evil character?

I don’t find wholly good or wholly evil characters at all interesting. What interests me about Loki is his dual nature. He is capable of tremendous selfishness, callousness, cowardice and even cruelty, but he’s also capable of surprising us – and himself – with occasional moments of courage and even self-sacrifice. He’s always engaged in a conflict between his good side and his selfish side, which is why I think we understand him. It makes him very human.

How hard was it, keeping track of all the different characters?

It’s always a challenge working with a cast of characters as large as this. As it is, I haven’t used all the gods of the Norse pantheon, but I needed at least the important ones. I’ve deliberately left some of them in the background, awaiting further development, while I focused on a select few. This focus may change as the stories progress. Watch this space.

What makes you kill a character off?

Sometimes the plot gods force you to. In Runemarks I really didn’t want to lose Odin, who was one of my favourite characters. But much as I hated to see him die, the narrative demanded it. In the same way, in Runelight, you may see a favourite character die. All I can say is; I’m sorry. Story, like life, is often unfair…

Tell me about Aspects. Do the gods ever get their true Aspects back?

Aspects are the different ways in which the gods of Runemarks manifest themselves. Chaos gods like Loki and the Vanir can change Aspect at will. For instance, Loki has a human Aspect (which is that of the body into which he was born), a Wildfire Aspect (which is inhuman and elemental) and various animal Aspects (a hawk, a cat) which sometimes serve as disguises. The gods also each have a true Aspect, but can only assume this form in Asgard (which no longer exists) or in the worlds of Chaos or Dream. In true Aspect, the gods regain their original runemarks and powers, which is why rebuilding Asgard is such an appealing prospect.

How were the old gods’ runemarks reversed?

In defeat, at the hands of Chaos. When Asgard fell, the old gods fell with it, and were stripped of their powers and thrown into the Black Fortress of Netherworld, later to escape through Dream and be reborn into human Aspects.

When a god is reborn into a human Aspect, what happens to the original host? Does his personality vanish completely?

No, but some matches are better than others. It really rather depends on the host. In some cases (like Thor and Jed Smith, or Ethel and Frigg) the two are so compatible that there is no problem. In other cases (like Sugar and Tyr, or Sif and Black Nell, the potbellied pig), the host mind or the host body may not be a perfect match. Generally, in these cases, the stronger personality will tend to be the dominant one.

What about the new runes? Where did they come from?

I’ve used Old Icelandic runes for the Elder Script, and Old English variants for the New Runes. In Runelight, the New Runes and their meanings are revealed as the story progresses. Some herald the appearance of new gods, others become the attributes of characters we’ve met before. I had a lot of fun with these – especially with Crazy Nan Fey, a minor player in Runemarks, who ends up becoming quite an important character…

Did you draw the maps?

No. But I did the original doodle.

Which are your favourite characters?

Well, Loki, of course. But in Runelight, I also really enjoyed Nan Fey, Captain Chaos and his circus, and the demon wolves (I had a lot of fun creating their idiotic, pseudo-surfer-dude/gamers’ dialogue).

Yes, why do you use modern slang expressions in a quasi-mediaeval folkloric/ mythological setting?

So many serious works have already been written on Norse mythology. My aim was never to do that. In Runemarks, I wanted to humanize the characters I borrowed from Norse mythology, to explore the humour of the legends and to make them accessible to a different readership. Using a different type of language is a part of that. I think some modern fantasy takes itself far too seriously, and I use slang, anachronisms and vulgarisms deliberately, to undermine some of the pompousness that can sometimes exist within the genre.

Where will Maddy go from here? And what will happen to the other gods?

I don’t know too much about that yet. But I’d like to explore the Outlands. I’ve really only hinted at their existence until now, but I think there may be a chance at some point for Maddy (and friends) to visit them, and maybe encounter some other gods from very different cultures. Plus Maggie’s story isn’t finished yet – you’ll find there’s at least one very important loose end for me to tie up at some point, and I’m guessing the next book will deal with that.

Any chance of a movie, please?

Wouldn’t that be nice? So far, there’s nothing much on the cards, but cast the rune and think of me, and maybe together we can summon some luck….