________________ CM . . . . Volume XIII Number 9 . . . . December 22, 2006


The Fetch. (The Runestone Saga, Book I). 

Chris Humphreys.
New York, NY: Alfred A. Knopf (Distributed in Canada by Random House of Canada), 2006.
357 pp., cloth, $21.00.
ISBN 0-375-832925.
Subject Headings:
Time travel-Fiction.
Adventure and adventurers-Fiction.

Grades 8 and up / Ages 13 and up.

Review by Ronald Hore.
***½ /4 


More than anything now, he wanted to believe he was still asleep. That this was one of his nightmares. However horrible, at least they were familiar. They ended when you woke up. You could be comforted after a nightmare.

This wasn't a nightmare. He was awake. So this ... thing was real; the skeleton hand, the black cloak, real. The empty hood that should contain a face, a face that should even now be reddened by moonlight, real.

His scream, though, when it finally came, could have come from a nightmare-squeezed out, dead slow, stuck for the longest time in his throat. While whisper slowly grew to wail, the hood stayed motionless, lifted up at him, that beckoning finger raised. At last, he heard his parents scrambling for dressing gowns; corridor light etched his doorframe, feet thumped toward his room. But only at the very moment that his door burst open did the finger lower, the hood drop. Only then did the shape move away, slipping out of the rectangle of sudden bedroom light, dissolving into shadow, vanishing down an alley of apple trees.  

 The Fetch is the first book in "The Runestone Saga." The definition of fetch that the author uses is: "Fetch: the apparition, Double or wraith of a living person." That definition sets the tone for this tale of runestones, Vikings, magic and blood sacrifice. Sky is a 15 year-old boy living in England. His life is troubled, the family has moved a lot, he has difficulty in the new school, and on top of all this, Sky sleepwalks and has nightmares. And the nightmares are becoming more realistic.

     At birth, Sky was born with an amniotic membrane over his face, a caul. Now he wears the dried caul in a bag around his neck. People who are born with a caul, they say, are born with a "gift."

     The story gets into gear with the annual summer visit of Sky’s 16-year-old cousin, Kristin. She used to be a tomboy, and a good companion, but last summer she was suddenly growing up and looking down on him. When this pair start playing with runestones they found in Sky's grandfather's old trunk in the attic, and using an Ouija board, things begin to get out of hand.

     Sky is drawn to the ghost of his grandfather, Sigurd. Only we are not certain that it might have been Sigurd who drew Sky to him. Sigurd introduces Sky to the power of the runestones, allows him to inhabit the body of a Viking ancestor in 1066 before the walls of York while Kristin must remain behind to watch over Sky's unconscious body. One problem with using all this rune magic is that such magic eventually requires a blood sacrifice. 
     The pair are drawn in deeper into a web of possessed animals, specters and mystery, eventually sneaking off to Norway to search for Sigurd's cabin and what he may have hidden there. Sky is faced with a choice you would not wish to make.

     The book is well written. You can tell that the author is familiar with his subjects, whether it is runes, Viking weapons, or troubled teenagers. The historical settings are vivid and well done. The characters of the two young protagonists are well written and appear age-appropriate. The parents seem normal. The volume, of some 350 pages, contains a full page black and white map in the front of the book of England and Norway to allow the reader to follow along. There is also a four and a half page "Author's Notes" at the back of the volume where Humphreys provides some personal background as well as some of his reasons for writing this book.

     This tale is not for everyone. If you don't approve of ghosts, dislike psychic happenings, feel ill at the description of close combat with sharp axes, dislike difficult decisions, then shy away. This tale will hold the reader's attention if you enjoy a thriller with a touch of mystery and history. It will make you want to keep turning the pages. You may also wish to leave all the lights on while reading and listening for creaking staircases.

     Because this is the first volume of the saga, there are issues resolved by the end with enough still left hanging to warrant waiting in anticipation for the next volume.

Highly Recommended.

Ronald Hore, involved with writer's groups and writer's workshops for several years, retired from the business world in Winnipeg, MB.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

Copyright the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.
Published by
The Manitoba Library Association
ISSN 1201-9364
Hosted by the University of Manitoba.