five: the runes of odin by ben julien
The Runes of Odin (The Runes Saga I) by Ben Julien
review published in QWC Writing Queensland, issue 164, July 2007,
Join the Thegn’s housecarls in a jar of ale, warm your bones, and read on. The Runes of Odin is an adventure fantasy set in the arctic Northern Lands where Norsemen plunge the Isles into a brutal war, and two young people unite to protect their homeland. Author Ben Julien deftly draws Lena and Calum toward their shared destiny with an action-packed multi-focal narrative. Ben Julien, also an adventurer, toured Norway’s fjords on a replica Viking ship. Authentic research!
Lena is an Isles girl raised in the Norselands after being captured in a raid. Calum, raised in the Isles by his foster father, comes to believe he is Norse. He accidentally discovers his ability with runes, which he must learn to control. His initial experiments are erratic and dangerous. Lena’s peasant destiny is dramatically transformed when the mysterious vala chooses her as an assistant. Alongside this blue-cloaked seeress, Lena commences her instruction in the ancient power of the Runes of Odin.
‘Runes are the keys to the elements. They are triggers that unlock the powers of the wind, and the water, and fire.’
This is Norse history and mythology layered with runes magic. The two displaced protagonists meet over a runes invocation just as the invasion begins. They must cast the runes together to save themselves and the Isles people.
Runes’ narrative balance between Lena and Calum ensures appeal to both genders. Other dual contrasts are presented; Norse and Islesmen, peace and war, family and outsiders, city and country, blonde hair and red hair, free and bonded – each illustrating the separateness of the main characters from others. Interestingly, a contrast has been broken down for me. I thought you could either be a fantasy reader, or not. Runes drew me in.
Runes will appeal to advanced middle school readers (years 6-10). In a connected curriculum it will complement studies in Viking culture, north European history and myths and legends. Strong themes emerge, including displacement, identity, courage, fortitude and cultural conflict. Jacaranda provides accompanying worksheets.
Regarding design; the cast of characters and runic alphabet are welcome additions, but I would have liked to have seen them placed at the front of the book with the map. I found the strength of the fantasy woven around Norse mythology gripping, and realise I can’t stop with one. Who wouldn’t want to have magical powers? I have to find out how Lena and Calum fare in their subsequent quests in The Legacy of Odin (2007) and The Iron Throne (June 2007). I’ve warmed to fantasy.