“Well,” he said at last, “I’ll have you know that I’m going to make it my personal mission to ignore all your depressing prophecies and do whatever I feel like doing.”
“You can’t just ignore prophecies.”
“You can if you try hard enough.”
“I’m not quite sure that’s how it works.”
Re-imaginings of classic tales are always difficult to pull off. The author has to balance infusing the story with familiar faces and plot points the reader expects while bringing something fresh to the story. This is even harder to do with stories that have been told and retold many times over. But The Witch’s Heart is the rare retelling that brings a new perspective to an old tale while creating its own world, centering a character in the narrative who, until now, has not had a voice at all.
By now, many are familiar with the story of Odin, Loki, and Thor, whether from the original Norse mythology or from the Marvel Cinematic Universe films based on the lore. But this novel chooses to focus on Angrboda, “mother of monsters,” who is a minor character at best in the original Norse myths. Angrboda is a witch killed three times by Odin and banished for refusing to show him the future he needs to know. Alone on the edge of the forest and missing her heart, Angrboda finds herself in the path of Loki as he returns the heart Odin stole. So begins a romance with cosmic consequences as Angrboda finds herself caught up in Loki’s orbit, bearing his three monstrous children and raising them largely alone (aside from huntress Skadi). She’s desperate to keep her family hidden from Odin, but as the story races closer and closer to the prophesied Ragnarok of legend, it becomes clear that stopping fate will come at a steep cost.
By focusing the story on Angrboda and not on the iconic character of Loki (or his brother Thor), Genevieve Gornichec flips the script we are familiar with. The story suddenly becomes about the quiet moments rather than the clashes between gods, focused on Angrboda and her journey through grief and love and back again. She’s a compelling protagonist, and it’s a testament to the writing that she comes alive even next to a character like Loki, who is known for pulling focus in stories in which he is a supporting character. While Loki’s appearances in the novel are dryly funny and will be satisfying for any Loki fans reading just for the Trickster, the most interesting and well developed character is Angrboda. The romance between the two is certainly a focus of the novel (and one of its strengths), but much more time and care is spent on Angrboda as she begins to realize the extent of her power and the fate she is destined for.
That destiny is the fixed point around which the story revolves, and anyone familiar with the original myth likely believes they know how this book ends. But part of the genius of The Witch’s Heart is how it remains faithful to the original Norse tales while delivering an entirely subversive take on the legend. This story is not always a happy one, and in fact at times is a difficult read, but the imagery and immersive writing will draw you in. The Witch’s Heart may be infused with mythology, but it reads like a dark fairytale. The gorgeous imagery alone makes this novel worth reading, but the way Gornichec writes is also compelling. It’s straightforward and almost modern while respecting the ancient-ness of the story. If you’re a fan of Circe or Song of Achilles, The Witch’s Heart is the devastating tale of a mother’s love and the gods’ wrath that will draw you in and never let you go.
The Witch’s Heart is available today, February 9, wherever books are sold.