Title: The Witch’s Heart
Author: Genevieve Gornichec
Genre: fantasy; mythology retelling (Norse); romance; paranormal (witches); LGBT
Synopsis: (from goodreads) When a banished witch falls in love with the legendary trickster Loki, she risks the wrath of the gods in this moving, subversive debut novel that reimagines Norse mythology.
Angrboda’s story begins where most witches’ tales end: with a burning. A punishment from Odin for refusing to provide him with knowledge of the future, the fire leaves Angrboda injured and powerless, and she flees into the farthest reaches of a remote forest. There she is found by a man who reveals himself to be Loki, and her initial distrust of him transforms into a deep and abiding love.
Their union produces three unusual children, each with a secret destiny, who Angrboda is keen to raise at the edge of the world, safely hidden from Odin’s all-seeing eye. But as Angrboda slowly recovers her prophetic powers, she learns that her blissful life—and possibly all of existence—is in danger.
With help from the fierce huntress Skadi, with whom she shares a growing bond, Angrboda must choose whether she’ll accept the fate that she’s foreseen for her beloved family…or rise to remake their future. From the most ancient of tales this novel forges a story of love, loss, and hope for the modern age.
Review: 5/5 stars
** spoiler alert **
The way the author weaves this modern retelling around the saga inspired Norse myth is fantastic. I love the way it starts and then begins again so many times. Ever since watching The Haunting of Hill House, I think of the line Nel says at the end, “Time is like confetti” a LOT. This book brought me back to this idea so often as we learned more and more about Angrboda’s saga.
On her own, Angrboda seems to have this amazing arc of humanity in her own right, she’s the one Odin couldn’t kill, the one who heals, the fierce mother, the independent woman, and the Mother Witch. It takes her a while to figure out who she is, but being on that journey with her is wonderful.
Having read this after growing up with Norse myth and the Marvel Universe, this is a refreshing take. In all versions of her story, she is a fierce mother. I love Angrboda’s relationships with Hel, Fenrir, and Jormundgandr. She may be the “mother of monsters” in myth, but in this story, she is just their mother, and wants nothing more than to fiercely protect. The betrayal and hurt is palpable when her children are taken. The writing is so strong and so vivid, it was excruciating to read.
In more recent Norse retellings, it’s Thor the hero, or Loki, the love ale trickster, or Odin, the benevolent. In this, they are not how they’ve been portrayed in the MCU. Thor is a a menace at best, a villain at worst; Loki has many faces, and the hurt and betrayal he is capable of shocked me. Odin seemed to be the most straightforward.
One of my favorite dynamics was between the women— Skadi, Sigyn, Freyja, Gerd, Angrboda, Hel, the she-wolf. There are so many instances of strong women being at odds with one another, but in the end, coming together anyway. Skadi helps Angrboda even though she doesn’t know her, Gerd teaches Hel nailbinding, Freyja helps Angrboda figure out seid again even though they are absolutely on opposite sides, and Angrboda and Sigyn come together in understanding before Ragnarok.
I appreciated that not everyone got a full blown ending too, just pieces of story as told by someone else. Like Gerd, she wasn’t given a redemption, just a final sentence or two from Skadi to help Angrboda come to a decision about understanding and forgiveness and where she stands. Sigyn too, after Loki’s punishment doesn’t really get any final ending either, just an unspoken second chance after Loki is killed in Ragnarok.
I think my favorite scene in the novel is when the bonds are broken and Angrboda is reunited with her sons. It was so touching and sweet. The notion that the brothers stayed in contact with one another, and that they did not hold anything against their mother — in fact calling her, “Mama” to start, was so comforting.
Overall, I think the cyclical nature of this book is what kept me so intrigued. The language and storytelling was just plain beautiful.