The Witch's Heart Book Review
Updated: Sep 8, 2022
Welcome to the first post of this month's mythology theme!
The Witch's Heart by Genevieve Gornichec reimagines Loki's family—his wives, their children, and their role in the end of days: Ragnarok. I have mixed feelings about this one, so prepare for a roller coaster of thoughts.
NOTE: There are minor spoilers in the Characters section, so if you'd like to avoid them, skip that section or all the way down to the TL;DR.
Genre: Fantasy / Mythology Retelling
Category: Cozy Read
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RATING: 3/5 Stars
Plot: 2.5/5 stars
Characters: 3/5 stars
World: 3/5 stars
Pairing: Kanelbullar (Swedish cinnamon buns) + apple tea
The Witch's Heart follows Angrboda, a giantess with the gift of sight, as she escapes the Aesir, meets Loki, marries him, and eventually has his children. But much like Lore Olympus, the iconic Greek mythology WEBTOON, this novel also features many well-known (and a few lesser-known) Nordic stories––namely, the ones involving Loki. But whereas Lore Olympus can be considered a romance, The Witch's Heart has romance as a side dish.
This isn’t a perfect debut (how many are, though?), but it is has its charms—the myths are woven together interestingly, and the story made me laugh and cry at times, but I did feel let down in some areas.
My first complaint is the chapter breaks—or lack thereof. The first 200 pages are Part One, with only line breaks to separate sections and show the passage of time. I wanted the achievement of finishing a chapter! But at least the sections are not very long.
My next complaint is that while this isn't a plot-driven novel, much of the plot felt predictable––and not just because I knew these characters and their destinies. There were plot points that should have been obvious to some characters, or that they should have shown more concern for.
Yet even though I knew going into the story how things would end for certain characters, it didn't prevent me from shedding a few tears at the big moments.
“The ending doesn’t matter. What matters is how we get there. To face what’s ahead with as much dignity as we can muster and make the most of the time we have left.”
While I normally enjoy character-driven stories, I wasn't totally thrilled with the characters in this one.
I wish Angrboda was a stronger female lead. While I get wanting to hide out from Odin's gaze, part of me was sad that Angrboda had little motivation or desire for anything but to live peacefully in her cave and to keep her children safe.
I’m not saying that wanting a quiet life of peace is wrong. I just think she could have been more proactive about giving her kids or herself a bigger and better life beyond their cave, and that some of the feminist ideas were lost or could have been stronger.
If I had been used and abused by a man—burned thrice upon a pyre for upholding my boundaries, then forced to hide in the fringes of society—I know I’d be out for revenge of some sort. Then again, if you had been abused in such a way, it would make sense to want to live the rest of your existence peacefully. So it's really a matter of opinion, and I can see both sides. It depends on what you're looking for in a protagonist and their story.
I didn’t like that Angrboda's amnesia took so much of her strength and identity, especially when it was obvious to everyone but her who she was before her conflict with Odin. Though I can appreciate a self-discovery quest.
Then there’s her relationship with Loki. I was disappointed they weren’t a more powerful couple with a better relationship. He’s not a great husband or father, and while I admire that she didn’t need him, that she accepted him as he was, I hated seeing her forgive and forget so easily when hurt by him. It was like the author felt she would be more powerful not being too affected by him rather than standing up for herself or the kids in a more substantial way?
But she never got angry enough to act—by demanding what was right or seeking her old identity or a new life—until her kids were the ones victimized.
“There is a reason I will not be by your side during your torment. And that reason is you.”
So in some respects, it seemed like Angrboda was a supporting character in her own life, waiting to see if Odin found her, when Loki would come back, or what Skadi (her friend/business partner) would have when she returned from trading. In fact, I’d argue Skadi was the stronger female in this story. She felt things deeply, stood up to the gods for herself and others, helped Angrboda build a life, and took little shit from anyone.
That said, even Skadi didn’t speak up or act on her desires when it came to Angrboda. At the end, the two women enter a more intimate relationship, though it felt like it came out of nowhere in an attempt to make the novel more inclusive. Until that moment, Skadi seemed just a great friend, and Angrboda showed no signs of attraction or deeper affections for her. Skadi seemed like a last resort as the only person left who Angrboda knew.
I would have been happier if Loki and Angrboda had a stronger relationship, and/or if Skadi had been a more solid love interest from the beginning, or perhaps even a third parent to the kids.
My last complaint, as far as characters go, is that for a “feminist” novel, aside from Skadi, the women did each other dirty on multiple accounts. It wasn’t all bad, though. There was remorse, growth, and even some sweet moments. I was glad to see Angrboda and the kids have friends, but it made the Big Betrayal at the end heartbreaking.
What I did like was how in the end, Angrboda willingly faced what should arguably be her biggest fear (though she showed no real trauma from the experience). I also appreciate the questions she brings up about race and class, using the conflict between the giants and gods, and reframes the gods as monsters, and the “monsters” as innocents.
I wouldn't have minded a few chapters from Loki's POV, but I get that this was meant to be her story. That said, the dialogue was cute and entertaining. Loki was an adorable dad when he was actually around, and though he definitely screwed up time and again, he did his best to make up for it in his own way. I also enjoyed his banter with Angrboda.
“You are not training our son to eat anyone.”
“I hear your nagging tone, but not the words you’re saying.”
Whether it's because of how few locations are used in the story, there wasn't a terrible amount of world building. Most of it relied on what readers already know about Norse mythology, though readers with little knowledge on the subject could get through it without feeling lost.
BUT I am a sucker for the “witch of the wood” vibe. I liked the magic and how the Ironwood came to life as Angrboda established her new home there.
Also, if you're unfamiliar with Norse mythology, or have trouble with the names, Gornichec has provided an appendix to help keep the people and places straight. There is also a "Further Reading" section at the end, which lists the main sources used for the Norse myths, as well as other retellings readers might enjoy.
Despite its flaws, I did enjoy this book. I'd hoped for more, but as it did make a laugh and cry, and it’s a debut, I’ll be lenient with it. I liked the premise and wanted to love this book, but I can’t help but feel the execution could have been better.
It’s a great choice for those looking for an easy read that has darker undertones and is heavily character-driven. If you’re looking for a romance novel or a more complex novel featuring strong, multifaceted characters with killer arcs and relationships, a layered plot, and/or a bunch of action, this book is not for you.