Nordic runes became a big fortune-telling and New Age self-exploration tool in the 1970s and 80s. Like Tarot cards and other things, the runes became commercialized and sanitized, slanted toward the positive and not-scary. In The Fetch, Book One of Chris Humphreys’s YA fantasy trilogy THE RUNESTONE SAGA, the runes are ancient and wise, filled with darkness and blood. To embrace them is to embrace great power, and the darker side of power: sacrifice.
Fifteen-year-old Sky calls himself the King of the Sleepwalkers. He has sleep disturbances frequently, but now that his nomadic family — dad Henry is an engineer — has settled in rural England, things are getting worse. He is having vivid dreams of a hooded figure calling out to him, demanding… something. When his Norwegian grandfather’s steamer trunk shows up, he presses his mother Sonja for stories of this enigmatic ancestor who died in a ship fire many years earlier. Sonja knows very little about her father, who left the family when she was small. Later, exploring the trunk, Sky finds a journal written in Norwegian, and a bag of polished stones with small figures carved into them; the runes.
Sky is bombarded with strange incidents. He thinks he sees a double of himself, a fox in the woods talks to him, and the dreams get more vivid. Sky is cautious about using the runes, but his bold and mischievous cousin Kristin doesn’t share his concerns.
The Fetch is an engrossing read. The title comes from a folkloric term for a body double. Sky soon discovers that he has two kinds of “doubles”: a physical one (he can learn to be in two places at once) and one that can possess animals. In a breathtaking scene, Sky becomes a hawk and soars into the blue. The runes also let him travel in time to meet various ancestors, including his grandfather, Sigurd, himself. Kirstin has something to say about this development:
“Okay,” she said quietly when he’d blurted out the last of it, “Let me see if I’ve got this straight — you’ve gone to the far side of consciousness. You’ve met our grandfather’s ghost there. He’s told you that you are going to become a time traveler. That you’ll visit our ancestors, experience their lives, have amazing adventures. Learn the ultimate destiny of your life.” She cleared her throat. “And he wants me to be your… research assistant???”
Sky’s pathway through time, through the lives of his ancestors, gets darker, and more secrets about Sigurd, his life and his mysterious death are uncovered. The runes demand a blood sacrifice, and greater power demands greater ones. The exploration of the power of the runes leads to serious consequences for Sky and Kristin, forcing Sky to make a choice that will play out over the next two books.
Sky and Kristin are strongly drawn, and the worldly Kristin is a good foil for the naïve Sky. Sky’s parents, Sonja and Henry, are eccentric themselves, well delineated in a brief space. Sigurd and another ancestor, Bjorn, come to vivid life in the book.
Humphreys tells the story in simple workmanlike prose, filled with clear descriptions. He carefully sprinkles the book with Norwegian terms: draug or ghost; vardogr or body-double. Sky is the intersection of two magical traditions, since Henry was born in Corsica. It’s clear that Sky’s quest to right what has gone wrong will draw on both traditions as the series continues. I found The Fetch to be an enjoyable, convincing read.
The Runestone Saga — (2006-2008) Young adult. Publisher: FETCH: The apparition, double, or wraith of a living person. In the attic, in an old sea chest, secreted away, are a mysterious journal and a set of runes: 24 stones that will change Sky’s life forever. When Sky and his cousin Kristin find their Norwegian grandfather’s runes, Sky feels like the wait is over, like he can now release the breath he wasn’t even aware he’d been holding. But when he lays out the stones in a runecast they find in Sigurd’s journal, he is catapulted into a world filled with more possibilities and more danger than he ever imagined. This first entry in the Runestone Saga is an utterly unique blend of horror, supernatural possibility, and historical truth that will leave readers wrung out from tension and clamoring for more.
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