Seven o’clock on a Monday morning, five hundred years after the end of the world, and goblins had been at the cellar again. . . . Not that anyone would admit it was goblins. In Maddy Smith’s world, order rules. Chaos, old gods, fairies, goblins, magic, glamours–all of these were supposedly vanquished centuries ago. But Maddy knows that a small bit of magic has survived. The “ruinmark” she was born with on her palm proves it–and makes the other villagers fearful that she is a witch (though helpful in dealing with the goblins-in-the-cellar problem). But the mysterious traveler One-Eye sees Maddy’s mark not as a defect, but as a destiny. And Maddy will need every scrap of forbidden magic One-Eye can teach her if she is to survive that destiny.
I love this book. It’s like the YA version of Discworld, but written by a woman. I almost swooned when I read this book. Magic? Loki and Odin? Female heroine? I’m in! This book takes place after Tribulation, which I took to mean the apocalypse. Before Tribulation, it seems people worshiped Odin and Loki and Thor, but now they worship the Nameless and are as zealous as Crusaders with their enforcement of the religion. For me, I imagined Tribulation the be a huge nuclear war that wiped most of us out, and this book shows how we started over: by going Medieval again. There’s no technology in Malbry, and the characters speak as if they’re from the Middle Ages.
Maddy has no parents, and the folks in her village have been waiting for her to turn evil since she was a child. When One-Eye appears, she has to beg him to teach her the ways of the runemark. He agrees eventually, of course. Maddy goes on her happy way until one day when One-Eye asks her to open the Hill and find something called The Whisperer. He doesn’t tell her what it is exactly, and when she asks why he can’t go with her, he makes vague references to a “traitor” we don’t know. Maddy does enter the Hill and uses her runes to recruit a goblin guide. And in the Hill, she meets Lucky.
Maddy knows right off that Lucky isn’t telling her something, and she’s right, Lucky is not what he says he is. He turns out to be Loki, and Maddy knows immediately that he is the traitor. What she doesn’t expect is the information Loki has on her good friend One-Eye. Circumstances see to it that Maddy acquires The Whisperer while on the run from Loki, and old One-Eye gets brought in to be Examined by a man from World’s End. The Examiners were scary, and seemed like something out of a sci-fi novel. They are part of an Order, and from what I can tell, it’s the Spanish Inquisition all over again, but this time, the priests have magic. And everyone should know by now how obsessed I am with anything medieval.
Another thing I like about this book is that the villains don’t seem one-dimensional. Nat Parson is kind of a jerk, kind of overzealous in his worship of the Nameless, prone to suspicion and greed, and yes, he wants to see Maddy burned at the stake. But there is also mention of his family and his belief that what he is doing is for the good of the community. He wants to be able to Examine people, but I don’t get the feeling that he wants to Examine solely to hurt people. He thinks that’s the right thing to do. It’s strange, because I can sympathize with Nat Parson while simultaneously being repulsed by him. Another instance of this is Loki. Everyone is mad at Loki. He’s done something to piss off every single person in the Norse pantheon. Odin was dumb for letting him run wild in Asgard. But again, you don’t get the feeling that Loki does things out of malice. It’s almost like he can’t help it, like he does it because it’s expected of him. So while he’s a liar and a thief, he’s also my favorite character.
The only thing I didn’t like about the book is how it seemed to go from being about Maddy to being about everyonebut Maddy. The story started following the Examiner, One-Eye, Loki, everyone, and things started to get jumbled after awhile. I would sometimes have to turn back a few pages to refresh my memory. It seems a lot of reviewers experienced confusion with the Norse mythology, but that wasn’t a problem for me. The book also starts excruciatingly slowly but once you hit the 25% mark, it starts to speed up. Besides, the descriptions of Hel and the scenes that take place there make it all worthwhile!