In this work, renowned fiction author Diana Paxson tackles practical rune-uses in magic, divination, and ritual. The book is obviously intended to be a sort of popular guide rather than a more serious piece. While there are places where the book misses the mark, there are places where it is fairly good as well. It is a good introduction to more serious works but it is not, by itself, a complete guide.
First the good:
I appreciate the fact that the author provides a fair bit of structure in her approach to runestave meanings. This is an important step which is missing from many books on the subject. This is important because it helps individuals make up their own minds and arrive at personal synthesis in this area. Some of the discussions of how to run a study group are helpful as well.
I also appreciated the fact that the rune poems were given in the original languages with inline translations. This helps to encourage individuals to think about the poems as being in their original languages and hence try to investigate their own translations. When I do a second edition of "The Serpent and the Eagle," I will probably follow that approach.
Now the bad:
As the author points out, the Runes are a cultural expression of a specific set of people at a specific point in time. Unfortunately she then compares spiritual systems to foreign food and suggests that we can mix and match as we find it helpful with very little structure. Much of the approach from that point on ends up much more reminiscent of Hermeticism and related traditions and there is a clear Wiccan influence. (Among other things she refers to menstrual blood as "moon blood" without noting that Germanic languages and traditions see the Moon as a male mythological figure.) This is unfortunate because it provides a shallower approach to the tradition as a whole.
A second problem occurs with the treatment of the Old Icelandic Rune Poem. The original sources include two sets of material not covered in this book. The first is a set of glosses in Latin (Aurum for Fe, Umbre for Ur, Saturnus for Thurs, etc). Often times, the investigation of these glosses provides important material for understanding the Runes. In some cases, this can be very interesting. For example As is glossed as "Jupiter" and Naudh is glossed as "opera" (meaning "work").
The second set of material omitted are the listings of leader titles alliterating with the stave name. Once again, these can be quite important to understanding the staves.
Additionally I think there is some merit to the criticism of the bibliography, which is robust in some areas, lacking in some parts, and way off in left field in others (a substantial number of contemporary fiction works by the author and others appear there).
My other complaints are mild and not really the author's fault. The pages are printed on off-white paper which is designed to make the book thicker than necessary. The font is made larger than necessary. There are white space issues with the first page. Really the book design looks like it was done either to make the book appear more substantial than it is, and the book design seems remarkably amateurish for a publisher like Weiser. The cover mentions the author's fictional works which are really unrelated to the current book. If you are a book design nerd, you won't be able to stand this book.
I think this book is alright in its proper context. Certainly if someone wants to get into the Runes from a Wiccan background this book and "A Practical Guide to the Runes" by Lisa Peschal are good choices. However, it is not a serious textbook and is not meant to be. I would recommend it to some people but not others, hence a 3 star rating.