Angrboda’s story begins where most witches’ tales end: with a burning. A punishment from Odin for refusing to provide him with knowledge of the future, the fire leaves Angrboda injured and powerless, and she flees into the farthest reaches of a remote forest. There she is found by a man who reveals himself to be Loki, and her initial distrust of him transforms into a deep and abiding love.
Their union produces three unusual children, each with a secret destiny, who Angrboda is keen to raise at the edge of the world, safely hidden from Odin’s all-seeing eye. But as Angrboda slowly recovers her prophetic powers, she learns that her blissful life—and possibly all of existence—is in danger.
With help from the fierce huntress Skadi, with whom she shares a growing bond, Angrboda must choose whether she’ll accept the fate that she’s foreseen for her beloved family…or rise to remake their future. From the most ancient of tales this novel forges a story of love, loss, and hope for the modern age.
Thank you to NetGalley and Titan Books for the eARC in exchange for an honest review.
I’ve left my heart with this one. I was slightly concerned before starting it that it would be too familiar, since I’ve heard these stories from Norse mythology retold a few different times, but I was swept away right from the first line and Angrboda stole my whole heart.
‘Long ago when the gods were young and Asgard was new, there came a witch from the edge of the world.’
This book has some of the best prose I’ve read in a while. It begins with the witch, then known as Gullveig, teaching Odin about seid, the magic that allows one to leave one’s body and divine the future. When she refuses Odin’s request to venture down into the darkest future, to know the events that will unfold during the end times, he turns Asgard against her, and they pierce her with spears and burn her three times. This part is told succinctly, and is over before the end of the first page, because Angrboda’s burning is only the beginning of her story, and it truly begins when she finds herself in the Ironwood forest, a place that seems strangely familiar, and the trickster Loki finds her, and returns her heart to her. The conversations between Loki and Angrboda are lovely and witty, and make the pages fly by. The moments between them are heart wrenching, first with pleasure and then with sadness.
Then, the giantess Skadi appears, and I was prepared to dislike her because that’s the way she’s portrayed in most original myths – and, frankly, quite a few retellings. But this butch weapon-wielding frost giant shot her way into my heart just as she did into Angrboda’s. This book is very character-focused and character-driven, and most of the events that take place are in and around the witch’s cave, and a lot of them are quite mundane; Angrboda making her potions to trade, tending to her garden, her and Loki bantering over dinner, Skadi helping her decorate her cave. And yet it is so compelling. The relationships between these characters and the conflict within Angrboda herself are what drive the story.
And Gornichec does such an incredible job with these characters; they are alive. She has taken these women who dance at the edges of myth -Angrboda, Skadi, Gerd, Hel, and even the goddesses who stand in opposition to the witch, such as Freyja, Frigg, and especially Sigyn- and she has made them whole. They have their own lives, feelings, and personalities beyond what is important to the men in their lives, and they are beautiful. Gerd was the one who struck me the most, I think, because though I vaguely remember her from my previous encounters with these stories, she has always been a plot point, a side character that comes in when it is convenient and marries one of the more important people to serve a greater purpose. And yet, in The Witch’s Heart, she also gets developed, and I did not expect to love her as much as I did!
Angrboda’s time as a mother is the central focus of the story, and that too drives the story forward despite also being rooted in the witch’s cave, and in the mundane tasks of parenthood. And yet, once again, it is incredibly compelling, and I could hardly put the book down. I love all three of Angrboda’s children, and the bonds she forms with them are complex, yet rooted in love. The witch’s love is definitely one of the central pieces of her narrative; though she is powerful, and strong-willed, and has moments of great anger, her greatest strength lies in her love and compassion.
I won’t say much more, because this is an emotional journey that I think everyone should go on. Though the stories may be familiar, you have never heard them like this, and you’ve definitely never seen Angrboda in such a clear light. With this incredible novel, Gornichec has pierced my heart, burnt it thrice, and sewn it back together, and I shall treasure it always.
Published: 4th May 2021 (UK) by Titan Books / 9th February 2021 (US) by Ace Books
Genre: fantasy/myth retelling
Narration style: third person past tense, one narrator
Format read: eARC
Copy owned: not currently, but have preordered
Trigger Warnings: blood, death, animal cruelty, child abuse, torture.