The Witch's Heart
Do you have a crush on Loki, that trickster god from Norse Mythology? Perhaps because you kinda loved him (or Tom Hiddleston) in the MCU? If you do, The Witch’s Heart is the kind of book you’ll adore. It’s a modern retelling of the myth of Loki and Angrboda, and is filled with witty banter and a fun sense of spirit, but also a little too modern-voiced to work fully as a proper fantasy story.
Angrboda, a witch with seer’s powers, had once been an assistant to the Old Gods, but now she has been ordered to be burned at the stake by Odin after refusing to share her gift of second sight with him. She is burned, but Angrboda lives; multiple immolations fail to kill her, though the fires strip her of her powers and result in her fleeing to a deep, secluded forest to heal. Loki follows, after taking possession of her heart (which was impaled upon a stake and left behind when she fled), and returns it to her.
Loki and Angrboda quickly marry and have three children in their woodland idyll, but during her first pregnancy Angrboda’s power of second sight begins to return in the form of prophetic dreams. As she gives birth to Hei – the bitter future ruler of the dead, Fenrir – a wolf-child with a heavy destiny, and Jormundgand – a half-snake, it becomes clearer and clearer that the Gods will not let her and her family rest peacefully. Angrboda must rely on Skadi, a gruff huntress who slowly becomes her best friend, to help her protect her family from the fates and ensure all three children fulfill their destinies. But when you have Odin trying to kill your kids to ensure his survival – well, all bets are off.
The Witch’s Heart is properly enormous in scope – with a couple of love stories to follow and become engrossed in, one tragic and one gladdening. It reminded me a little of the myth telling of Morgan Llywelyen; it enraptures with a tale, even if its characters feel far too modern.
And yet Angrboda holds the center of the narrative with finesse, making the reader care about her believe believe in her quest to regain her powerful, even frightening, mastery of magic.
The love stories here point up the difference between what is a fleeting passion and what lasts forever. One roots less for Loki and Angrboda to last forever than one roots for Angrboda to outpace the prophecy hunting her children and herself; the secondary romance is what hold the heart tight in this one.
Naturally – because this is about Ragnarok and the creation of the modern world according to Norse mythology – you know that won’t be possible. The end comes with a gruesome crash that feels well-earned thanks to Gornichec’s talented pen.
The Witch’s Heart was an enjoyable read despite the modern feel to the characters and language. The mythological retelling is inventive, the characters are fascinating, and even those who have no familiarity with Norse mythology will love it.