Fantasy · Retellings

The Witch’s Heart

I love a good mythology retelling. And I’m a real sucker for the “from a female/feminist perspective” retelling trend that has recently hit the book world. I just loved Miller’s Circe when I read it a few years ago (yea, I’m a reading cliché right there). And more recently I also really enjoyed Barker’s The Silence of the Girls. So needless to say, I was psyched to see this new one. Plus, I do love Norse mythology and prior to now, many of these retellings have been Greek focused. So, with my copy of Gaiman’s Norse Mythology on hand for reference, I got ready to dive into this tale of Loki’s wife, Angrboda, “in her own words!”

The Witch’s Heart by Genevieve Gornichec

“And I will burn not for the god’s will, but for my own.”

After a series of run-ins with the gods (more specifically, after having been severely punished by Odin for not providing him with a vision of the future), Angrboda flees to the forests of Jotunheim to hide in peace. While there, she is found by a mysterious, mischievous man who turns out to be Loki, the trickster god, and the two fall for each other. Years later, their complicated, up-and-down relationship ends abruptly when Loki betrays her, and their three unusual children, at the behest of Odin. In the years following, with the help of her friend Skadi (a strong and intense huntress) who, from their first meeting in the woods, through the raising of her unique children, and supporting her during Loki’s absences, has never left her side, Angrboda fights for the future of her children (always in her heart, despite being far from her side). Because in the end, Ragnarok is coming, and it’ll take all her powers to try and get them through it.

Yup. This was freaking great. Not quite up to Circe, but probably my new second favorite mythology retelling. The first thing that indicated how much I’d like it was the writing. The oral story-telling, folk/fairy tale vibe style of the writing is damn perfect. It creates the exact right ambiance for the novel and even as it takes a turn for the more “normal” narrative as the plot progresses, it holds on just enough to keep the feeling without overdoing it for the full length. I loved all the references to Loki’s many, and well-known, misadventures (many of which I know as well as I do from Norse Mythology in the first place, so it was great to have it on hand to refer back to in order to flesh out the minimal details Loki gives Angrboda, to explain his absences, when he visits her). Also, I was really into the many tidbits about Skadi, Angrboda’s children and travels, the other Aesir and Vanir (gods), and more, that included details from other parts of the Prose Edda. I have not fully read it, but there was something about the way that Gornichec writes certain sections that prompted me to Google for more info. I loved those hints and the prompt to be able to read/learn more as I went. It was all such a well interwoven representation of Norse stories and writings, into a perspective that was not given the chance to be so represented in the original.

Topically, as with many of these “recasting tales of famous male figures from the female eye,” this was not an easy read as far as what Angrboda deals with. She faces blow after blow against her person, her feelings, her family, her autonomy, her life. And yet, the fight to survive and carve her own space and fight for what matters to her, through whatever route(s) available to her, is a drive strong enough to keep her moving forwards. Of note, here, there was a lovely sapphic respite for her towards the end and while it was bittersweet – as was basically every other part of Angrboda’s life – it was a balm in the midst of everything else. In what probably comes as no surprise given the themes and title, there is some really wonderful heart symbolism in this novel, both real and metaphorical in juxtaposition, throughout. It could have been overdone easily, but was used sparingly and nicely placed, in my opinion. Related, there is a comforting, in the sense that it would have pleased Angrboda to know it, ending. The reader is left with a strong message about the sacrifices of the heart for the betterment of one’s children and the future they’ll live. There’s also a wonderfully strong message about how, when those on opposite sides of a conflict come together, even against the face of what seems like an inevitable end, there is so much hope for a better tomorrow in that as well.     

This was just a gorgeous and deeply enjoyable retelling to read. If you love strong women, those who fight with whatever little they are given (like, if you loved Langoureth in The Lost Queen and The Forgotten Kingdom), with a sprinkle of the magical/supernatural conveyed in language that takes it in stride as the norm, you will love this story too. And as with all folk/fairy tales, the reminder of the power of story-telling, its role in memory/memorializing, is strong and leaves the perfect taste in your mouth, as a reader, as you turn the final pages.

A few other quotes that prompted me to record them:

“It doesn’t really matter where we came from, does it? We’re here now. We’re ourselves. What more can we be?”

“If hope is for fools, then so be it.”

2 thoughts on “The Witch’s Heart

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