Tuesday, 4 May 2021

The Witch's Heart by Genevieve Gornichec


There was a time, and a life, before, but Angrboda can't remember it. For her, the story starts when Odin attempts to kill her for not revealing visions of the future to him. Three times he has her burned, then tears out her heart. But still Angrboda survives.  Wanting to have nothing further to do with the gods of Asgard she retreats to the far-distant Iron Wood to heal and start over. She's soon followed though by Loki, the trickster, bringing back her heart but winning it through love. Together they raise three strange children; a daughter, Hel, born with withered legs, and two sons - Fenrir, a wolf, and Jormungand a small wriggling worm who rapidly grows into an enormous serpent. Despite their oddness, all three are greatly loved by their parents, but as Angrboda recovers her powers of prophecy she realises that her children have an important part to play in the end of the world - and that there's nothing she can do to avert it.  

I loved this book - a spell-binding, feminist re-imagining of Norse myths in which a minor character - a woman dismissed to the margins of the old tales now takes centre stage. Angrboda is the sort of woman rejected by society, often labelled 'witch', whose knowledge is both in demand and feared, and at the same time a mother, full of love for her unique children, her often-absent husband, Loki, and her one close friend, the huntress Goddess Skadi. It's love in general, and that maternal love specifically which makes her courageous enough to take on destiny. 

Within their close-knit, isolated home, the children are just seen as unusual; being different doesn't make them unlovable or 'less' than others. It's only when outsiders disrupt this environment that Angrboda's children see themselves as monsters.

The story reads like a fairytale or myth, but turns our usual understanding of the Norse gods and Ragnarok, the ending of their days, on its head. This isn't about superheroes saving the world as in the Marvel comics and films, or even the old traditional myths, but of the power of a mother's love that can sometimes change fate, if only a little.

It's an absolutely stunning fantasy debut, and I look forward to reading more by Genevieve Gornichec.

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