Riddle of the Runes

Written by Janina Ramirez
Review by Linda Sever

In the Viking town of Kilsgard, young investigator and shield maiden, Alva, along with her sniffer wolf, Fen, follow a series of clues to unravel the many mysteries that seem to occur there on a regular basis. Alva is desperate to be an investigator like her Uncle Magnus and so is determined to be the first at the crime scene, leading to no end of trouble. Added to the mix, there is a kidnapper on the loose.

One of the exciting things about this book is that the reader also participates in the narrative, helping to figure out the clues alongside the protagonist. What do the runes mean? What were the scribblings of the monk? A helpful guide to the runes and a glossary of terms are to be found at the back of the book too. It is like a murder mystery and treasure hunt, mixed in with historical fiction.

This is the first book for children by art historian, Janina Ramirez. She is already well-known as an academic and BBC TV presenter, but this novel brings her passion to life for younger people. There are many books with Viking themes and female leads around at the moment, but what makes this stand head and shoulders above the rest is that the book is packed with information about this period in medieval history, including the important role women played within Viking society. It encourages present day readers to realise their own importance in today’s society. Alva and the other characters are fully formed and engaging, and the narrative is fast-paced and exciting, accompanied by some stunning black and white illustrations. I look forward to reading the rest in the series. Recommended for 9+.