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The Witch’s Heart Kindle Edition
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About the Author
Genevieve Gornichec earned her degree in history from The Ohio State University, but she got as close to majoring in Vikings as she possibly could, and her study of the Norse myths and Icelandic sagas became her writing inspiration. She lives in Cleveland, Ohio.--This text refers to the paperback edition.
- ASIN : B08R6RFQY8
- Publisher : Titan Books (4 May 2021)
- Language : English
- File size : 1127 KB
- Text-to-Speech : Enabled
- Screen Reader : Supported
- Enhanced typesetting : Enabled
- X-Ray : Enabled
- Word Wise : Enabled
- Print length : 342 pages
- Best Sellers Rank: 57,829 in Kindle Store (See Top 100 in Kindle Store)
- Customer Reviews:
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Top reviews from other countries
I could not be happier that I did. (Minor spoilers will follow, but I will refrain from revealing specific plot points where possible.)
The Witch's Heart tells the story of Angrboda—or rather, a composite character based on several figures attested in the Poetic Edda and Prose Edda (our primary sources on Norse mythology). By combining these figures, Gornichec weaves a cohesive, emotional narrative of a Norse witch and giantess who is more than just the mother of Loki's children (as this is basically all we know of Angrboda from the surviving myths) and more than just a seeress (as many of the other figures Gornichec draws from are in the surviving myths). This simple liberty allows Gornichec to connect various (and often contradictory) events and tales into an impressively thought-out and logical canon.
But a novel can hardly survive on thorough research, clever retellings, and contemporary subversions. The Witch's Heart has all these, but its most accomplished feat is the emotional weight the story of its protagonist carries. In this take on Norse mythology, Angrboda has escaped Asgard after having her heart cut out and being burned alive (three times!) and taken refuge at the far end of the world. A chance meeting with another giantess and a budding romance with everyone's favorite Norse misfit, Loki, sets Angrboda on a path of self-(re)discovery.
And that journey is not just an unraveling of Angrboda's past, but a moving tale of the complex relationships the reclusive protagonist forms with her lovers, friends, children, and even her enemies. This is the essence of the novel, and unlike so many stories (particularly fantasy and mythology-based stories), none of the supporting cast is one-note or even your classic good guy or bad guy. These characters, almost all deities of a sort, are among the most human characters I've ever experienced, none perhaps more so than Loki.
As an aside, I have a personal fascination with Loki. He is one of the most prominent characters in the surviving Norse myths, but seems to defy most cultural norms of men during the Viking Age (he's genderfluid, is a mother as well as a father, rarely fights, etc.), yet is also Odin's blood brother, but also (perhaps unsurprisingly) was most definitely never worshiped or revered. Needless to say, he is a compelling god—and Gornichec not only captures the spirit of Loki but somehow manages to deepen his complexity.
Loki is often thought of as a trickster or the god of mischief, and Gornichec does not shy away from this reputation. In one of my favorite explorations of the character, she never seems to provide an actual reason (at least initially) why he creates trouble, other than that he is bored. This does so much to convey what type of individual Loki is, and yet also tells us frustratingly little about any ulterior motives he may have, which makes him all the more fun to read about when he's on the page.
This is to say nothing of his banter with Angrboda, which is equal parts hilarious and exasperating. Or to say anything of the pair's actual relationship. I have such a hard time sympathizing with neglectful or abusive romantic partners in novels (Loki is more neglectful here), and any displays of love or redemption writers typically try to create with those characters only makes me roll my eyes, but Gornichec really makes you believe Loki is sincere during his tender moments, and there was one such line in the book in particular that floored me, despite all the earlier instances of Loki's absence and seeming disregard for Angrboda's growing needs.
Every relationship Angrboda forms, particularly with her close friend, Skadi, and her daughter, is treated with as much care and complication, but for the sake of brevity and spoilers, you will have to discover those for yourself. Suffice it to say, if you enjoy Norse mythology or are just looking for a fantasy-based novel with some of the deepest, most interesting character writing currently available, I cannot recommend The Witch's Heart highly enough.
I will add a few extra impressions here that are less about the emotional impact of the novel and more about the faithfulness to the source material I picked up on. Feel free to quit reading here if you're not as interested in the Norse mythology aspects of the novel:
- Like virtually every novel, there are some moments where the "show, don't tell" rule is broken to move us from one major event to the next. I have no idea if this was intentional, but these moments of the novel read a bit like the actual sagas, and it seemed to me to reveal Gornichec's devotion and love for Old Norse texts.
- Many of the more popular myths happen off-page and are told to us through characters sharing stories, which feels like an homage to the fact that this is how many of the myths and sagas unfold. More importantly, there are almost no authorial liberties taken with these myths. Beyond combining Angrboda with other characters (Gullveig/Heid, Hyrrokin, etc.), I did not notice any major liberties taken.
- This feels like a love letter of sorts to the myths and characters themselves. Since we know so little about almost all of the characters who appear in the myths (many of whom are little more than name-dropped), there is a lot of room for creative license without tampering with the original stories, and Gornichec does this beautifully. The characters we do know a lot about (Odin, Loki, Thor) appear here much as they do in the myths, and the ones we don't (Angrboda, Skadi...and virtually everyone else) are provided the same level of depth the myths provide characters like Odin and Loki. It is obvious Gornichec treasures these characters, and there are few authors better suited to tell their stories today.
- As a quick note, while the novel is faithful to the myths, it is still very much a contemporary novel, and it does not seem much attempt was made to preserve any sort of archaic language. This is by no means a bad thing, but worth noting if that is the sort of novel you're looking for.
Reviewed in the United States on 13 February 2021