Title: The Witch’s Heart
Author: Genevieve Gornichec
This is a 2021 fiction novel about Norse mythology from a new perspective — one I was very excited to read. I first heard about this book through a Rökkatru group on Facebook, and then again in a group called Loki’s Wyrdlings. I cannot overstate how wonderful it was to see an author coming out with a novel that centered Angrboda, one of the more demonized figures in Norse mythology and one of my own patrons. The book appeared to be having a fairly wide reach already, which was even more exciting — a compassionate take on Norse mythology from the perspective of the Mother of Monsters? Hell yes!
Unfortunately, once I got hold of the book and started reading, I found myself rather disappointed. This may well be as a result of my own expectations shaped from growing up on The Mists of Avalon and having recently devoured the novel Circe by Madeline Miller. When picking up this book, though, don’t count on fully fleshed out or well rounded characters — with a few rare exceptions (Angrboda and Skadi most notably) you’re not going to get them.
The degree to which Gornichec stays faithful to the mythology can be considered admirable. There’s definitely a place for such faithfulness and I think for the purposes of introducing the mythology to a wider audience, especially from a new perspective, this can be a good tactic to take. In the context of a novel with longer narrative arcs, however, it limits character development somewhat. Instead of characters, we’re largely engaging with archetypes that have little depth of their own merit, and that renders much of the emotional rhythm of the story rather flat.
The character for whom this was most notable to me was Loki. As a worshiper of Loki I think I’m pretty predisposed to liking him, but this novel reminded me how grating it can be to sit for so longer with a straight trickster archetype that isn’t developed in other ways. Instead of feeling invested in the love story or being struck by its emotional beats, I found myself wondering why such a powerful and ancient witch would fall for a petulant man child.
Some of this is rectified near the end of the novel, which I won’t go into for the sake of spoilers. Many characters who had read to me like cardboard rounded out and became interesting, and I found myself wishing that that nuance in character could have existed from page one. It was refreshing and emotionally resonant when that nuance and development was there, and a shame it came so very late in the game.
That said, someone coming in without expectations or even just with different expectations would likely have a good time with this story. Because it is so faithful to the old mythologies, it’s a good introduction to them. Because it’s told from the point of view of a figure about whom so little is preserved, there was a lot of room for exploration and creative freedom, and this is where the novel shines. It has clearly struck a strong chord within the portions of the Heathen community that worship the jötnar and in every online community I’m a part of people are singing its praises, so it’s clearly hitting the right note for a lot of people. Ultimately, I’m still incredibly grateful to see a book portraying the jötnar with such sympathy and compassion, making the Editor’s Pick on Amazon and seeing widespread acclaim, and whatever my feelings about the writing itself that is nothing to sneer at.
[Reviewed by Tahni Nikitins. Tahni has been a practicing pagan since she was thirteen, and is a devoted practioner of Rökkatru. She’s a writer and a masters student of counseling and avid devourer of books.]