Mobius_Walker’s review of The Witch’s Heart brought it to my attention last year during bingo and now it’s my turn to review The Witch’s Heart for bingo. My knowledge of Norse mythology is sketchy at best. It’s mostly gleaned through other works drawing on Norse mythology (such as Neil Gaiman’s American Gods) and pop culture. This did not hinder my enjoyment of the book. It also meant that I didn’t have any preconceived notions regarding the legend that Gornichec has woven from the source material.
For those familiar with Norse mythology, this book is framed around the birth of Fenrir and Jormundgand and their role in Ragnarok, told through the story of their mother, Angrboda. Gornichec weaves together stories of Angrboda and other magical women in the Prose Edda and Poetica Edda supposing they are the same. Whether it was intentional or not, I saw this story through the lens of the maiden, mother, crone triptych. Each phase of her story seemed to correlate to the three archetypes.
In the maiden phase of her life, there once was a woman named Gullveig who had the power of seid, to see the future. She gifted her knowledge to the Vanir and Aesir (Odin, Thor, et al.). War was fought over the knowledge and eventually Gullveig was burned at the stake three times and then her heart was torn out. After the third burning she fled from Asgard to the Ironwood, at the farthest, darkest edge of Jotunheim. Loki finds the heart and tracks down the woman to return it. Thus begins her second life as Angrboda.
Angrboda sets out to create a quiet existence. She moves into a cave and focuses her magic on healing and protection from hunger. An encounter with the giantess, Skadi, finds her a boon companion and trading partner. Not all is quiet as Angrboda falls in love with Loki and they call each other husband and wife. In time comes three children; Hel, a half-dead girl, Fenrir, a wolf pup, and Jormundgand, a serpent. And so she enters her mother phase of the cycle. Unfortunately, this peaceful existence is not to last. Angrboda and Loki’s children are destined to be part of Ragnarok.
When Asgard takes her children, and Angrboda spends nine days between death and life, she moves to her third phase of life, the crone. She loses her connection with seid and begins travelling the realms to unlock her power once again. During this time, Angrboda becomes consumed with how to protect her daughter, Hel, from Ragnarok. As the flames of destruction approach, keeping Hel from burning will not be enough to save her, and so Angrboda gives one final gift to her daughter.
Overall I enjoyed The Witch’s Heart. I liked this new exposure to Norse myths and appreciated how it was told from a woman’s perspective. In the back is an appendix that gives information on all of the characters, locations, and sources and I found it useful. It also informed how Gornichec strung together various women to create her version of Angrboda. This is a slow moving book. At one point I wondered where the story was going but I was never uninterested in what was happening. If you like Norse mythology, if you are keen on exploring mythology from a different perspective/voice, if you appreciate stories that slowly unfold, then I think you’ll enjoy this book.
Note: I attempted to make a knotwork heart to go with the cover design and am pleased with the results!