I know next to nothing about Norse mythology. I don’t even have a basic idea of the stuff from Marvel because, well, I don’t follow anything from that universe. But even the Marvel stuff seems to be a liberal interpretation of the original source material. Needless to say, I stepped out of my comfort zone with Genevieve Gornichec’s The Witch’s Heart. Inside a book heavy with lore, I found an unassuming story of a mother and the boundless love she has for her children.
A powerful witch with the ability to see the future refuses to help Odin, king of Asgard. She is sentenced to death three times for her refusal, but the witch survives each flaming pyre. The witch retreats to a long-dead forest to recover, and while there, a curious Loki approaches her. After some banter, the trickster god returns the witch’s missing heart, and she decides to begin a new life. She renames herself Angrboda and creates a quaint life in an isolated cave within the dead forest. Loki begins visiting her, often running to Angrboda when he gets into trouble. The pair end up falling in love and raise three children, each with their own very unique circumstance. However, Angrboda’s protection can only go so far and nothing escapes the watchful eyes of the gods. When she begins to recover her ability to divine the future, the witch must stop running from her past and discover who she is for the sake of her family.
It was difficult to get acclimated to The Witch’s Heart at first because there are no chapters. Instead, the book is broken up into two-ish parts, with pauses in between that cut to new scenes. This could be a moment immediately following the break, or it could be months, maybe years later. Time in general is very slippery in the narrative and it can be hard to understand how much time has passed. There was not a lot of distinction between the three portions of the book so it seems to blur together. This is in part due to the storytelling as well. The book is made up entirely of vignettes from Angrboda’s life and it can be monotonous. We get a lot of detail about her quaint lifestyle. Characters might pop in now and then, but most of the story recounts Angrboda’s attempts to keep up with her three children and a trickster husband. Despite being about a pseudo-immortal seer living outside the walls of time who can control the forces of the cosmos, the book can feel like a story about a Victorian housewife with not enough to do.
Gornichec certainly adds context to the origins of Angrboda and Loki’s unusual children. But I would not describe this story as a retelling or even a reimagining of the lore. It feels almost like a direct retelling of a myth, with the narrative style often taking the form of classical fables and legends. Angrboda’s purpose is to fill in the gaps, and as far as I can tell the original story doesn’t evolve from there. Overall the book seems like a compilation of behind-the-scenes moments to the well-known lore. Even without expanding on the story, Gornichec has a great writing style and sets a quick pace that hops, skips, and jumps through Angrboda’s days. She does a great job portraying the overwhelming struggle of a single mother and making the tale feel very relatable.
Because I’m not well versed in the mythology it was a little isolating. I felt removed from the story for the most part but did enjoy the connection I made with Angrboda. The strongest moments in the book always seem to feature her fierce devotion to her children. Her relationship with Loki and her few other friends feels rich and complex. Loki is not the easiest person to love, and his mercurial nature means that the relationship between Loki and Angrboda is an emotional rollercoaster – in a good way. If you like relationship drama this tale has it in spades.
Don’t curse Loki if you feel he tricked you into thinking The Witch’s Heart was a retelling. Instead, relish in the story behind the story. Genevieve Gornichec sidelined the mysticism of the gods and explores the meaning of love and family. Settle into the comfortable grooves of Angrboda’s life and meet the children that upend the world.
Rating: The Witch’s Heart – 6.5/10