Genevieve Gornichec’s debut novel, The Witch’s Heart, takes the Norse characters and myths we are familiar with and gives them a new voice. Instead of the usual suspects, Odin and Thor, we are introduced to a minor character: the witch Angrboda, Loki’s first wife and the mother of his three children.
The Witch’s Heart begins with a heartbreaking scene in which Angrboda is being burned at the stake for the third time and her heart has been removed. She possesses the gift of seid, a kind of prophetic magic, which allows her to see into the future. Odin punishes her because she will not help him to see the future. She survives the burnings and finds herself stripped of her powers. Angrboda is now at the edge of the world, her body is slowly healing and she is reduced to foraging for roots just trying to survive.
Loki, the frost giant trickster god finds her and returns her heart to her. It’s at this point, where as a Marvel fan I can’t help but hear Tom Hiddleston, the actor who portrays Loki in the Marvel movies. “You’re a difficult woman to find.” See…I bet you just imagined the same thing!
Unlike the Loki we are accustomed to in the movies, this Loki is angsty, bored, and lacking in charisma. Angrboda is distrustful, as she should be, but Loki is persistent, he continues to insinuate himself into her life. She is content to live a solitary life in a cave. Despite Loki’s many antics and their frequent arguments, they fall in love and have three ill-fated children: the wolf Fenir, the Midgard serpent Jormungandr, and the half-dead girl and future Queen of the dead Hel.
Angrboda’s friend, the huntress giant Skadi, helps her to hide her family from the all-seeing eye of Odin. The threat that her unique family poses to the gods in Asgard will not go unnoticed for long. Angrboda’s prophetic visions of Ragnarok, or the apocalypse, and the role her children will play in the fall of the gods are a constant threat to her family’s safety. Angrboda must choose between letting the prophecy play out or somehow find a way to change the outcome.
The Witch’s Heart can be a bit slow-paced at times. This is a character-driven story of a woman who eventually learns to embrace her power. Angrboda makes the argument that the experiences of love and motherhood are equal to any epic battle waged by the gods. We get a glimpse into the complicated relationship with her “children” and the lengths she will go for love and vengeance.
Throughout the book, we are reminded that in Norse mythology, Ragnarok is inevitable. Angrboda, like all the others, is bound by fate. The author offers us a new perspective: instead of trying to alter the ending, focus on the small moments in your life, be present in your own life.
If you enjoyed Circe by Madeline Miller, you will love this book.
Review by Angela, Circulation Librarian