The Witch’s Heart, by Genevieve Gornichec

I finished reading Genevieve Gornichec’s The Witch’s Heart on Saturday and have slowly been coming down from the high ever since. This book was so good, so beautifully written, that I just want to run around telling people to read the book and share the experience of reading a story that will totally knock their socks off.

The Witch’s Heart retells the story of Angrboda, from the Norse legends. Gornichec pulls dozens of stories about Angrboda, Loki, jötnar (giants), and Ragnarök to create this heartbreaking tale. Angrboda, as in the legends, was a seeress and witch. Odin believed that she would be able to tell him what would happen before, during, and after the worlds-ending battle between the gods and the jötnar. When she refuses to tell him anything, she is burned to death three times—only to survive and flee to the Ironwood. At the beginning of The Witch’s Heart, we see a very injured Angrboda sitting near the edge of the grey woods when Loki shows up to return her heart. This fateful moment (preceded by the other fateful moments in which Odin refused to take no for an answer) kicks off a chain of events that culminate in the end of everything.

The thing that I’ve learned about prophecies from literature is that, no matter how much someone might want to change their fate, their actions always lead to their downfall. For example, Oedipus’ father sent him away, which meant that Oedipus didn’t recognize his parents before killing his father and marrying his mother. Odin wants to avoid Ragnarök. Loki wants to sow chaos. Everything those two do pushes the nine worlds closer to Ragnarök. I could see all the places where, if Odin and the Æsir had just taken a moment to hang fire, they could have avoided all the death that would follow. The need to control everything leads to the loss of control over anything.

While all this happening (mostly in the background) Angrboda and Loki fall in love (or as much in love as the wild Loki can manage) and have three children. Loki comes and goes, returning with news of his latest exploits and travails. Angrboda’s friend, the jötunn Skadi, hates Loki for the way that he leaves Angrboda and their family alone to fend for themselves in the Ironwood. But Angrboda is more than capable of taking care of her family—at least until Odin finds his lost seeress again. All Angrboda wants is to save her children, but Odin and the Æsir fear those children (especially Fenrir and Jormungandr) so much that their fear leads them to do terrible things to Angrboda’s family. The last half or so of The Witch’s Heart races along as the prophecies about Ragnarök come to fruition. The fact that we spent so much time with Angrboda made everything that much more heart-breaking.

I can’t praise The Witch’s Heart highly enough. I loved everything about it: the character development, the way Gornichec retells the legends, the sheer emotional weight of the story. When I finished reading it, I couldn’t jump into another novel the way that I normally do. I had an immediate book hangover because The Witch’s Heart was so fantastically brilliant. I plan on buying a copy as soon as it’s officially published so that I can read it again and again.

I received a free copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley, for review consideration.

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