To acquire wisdom, one must observe

BookTok worth it or not: ‘The Witch’s Heart’

While the weather has been quite dreary—and not entirely helpful with dealing with the seasonal depression blues—it is good for one thing: reading. There is nothing quite like curling up into your bed, avoiding your emails and classwork and reading a good book while the rain pitter-patters on your windowsill.

And now that we’ve officially entered spooky season, we can start reviewing spooky books. In hindsight I probably should have saved “The Guest List” by Lucy Foley for my spooky season read, but alas what can a gal do. 

This week I will be reviewing “The Witch’s Heart” by Genevieve Gornichec. It hasn’t been the most popular on mainstream BookTok but if you go down the mythology/lore subsection of BookTok it does come up quite frequently along with “Circe” by Madeline Miller and “A Thousand Ships” by Natalie Haynes. 

Without any further ado let’s get into it!

Unlike the titles mentioned above, “A Witch’s Heart” does not center around Greek and Roman mythology. Instead, Norse mythology is the inspiration for Gornichec’s work. I’m a sucker for a good mythology retelling so I had some high hopes for this book when I picked it up. I’m also a sucker for a retelling that switches the role of the main character, meaning that if in mythology the character is typically portrayed as the villain, the retelling shows them as a hero. Miller does this in her work “Circe” just as Gornichec does in “The Witch’s Heart.” 

We love a good perspective shift to showcase that the world is rarely ever black or white. I also love that the retelling centers on a woman who was first written by a man so her actions come off as evil or villainous and she is often given a lesser role in mythological texts. In Gornichec’s version she takes center stage and instead the male characters become secondary to her story. 

The story centers on a witch who goes by many names, but for the majority of this book the reader knows her as Angrboda. In Norse mythology, Angrboda is known as the Mother of Monsters and the wife of Loki, god of mischief. Her role in mythology is tied with her association with Loki and the heirs she produces, so it was cool to see Gornichec choose her as the character to take center stage.

Angrboda is a powerful being, and being so powerful makes her desirable to the gods—specifically Odin, another god with a lot of different backgrounds. She has the ability to see into the future and learn people’s fates—a dangerous power to have. But she refuses to give the gods the knowledge they want because of the risks it poses, and due to her insubordination they do what will be done to witches for centuries. They burn her. Three times over, because she is so powerful she is very hard to kill. Then they cut out her heart (because burning her three times over wasn’t enough).

In spite of this, Angrboda lives, but she knows little of her past life after waking up. She resides in the forest, away from the gods, and it is here that Loki enters her story. Being the god of mischief, he stole Angrboda’s heart from Odin who had taken it from her. He offers to give it back to her and from the exchange a friendship, of sorts, begins.

Still unaware of her past and power, Angrboda stays in the woods and makes potions for people in a nearby town. She is honestly living the cottagecore dream. She’s girlbossing (making these potions), gatekeeping (not telling Odin her visions) and gaslighting (herself). Gornichec does an excellent job of showing this side of Angrboda, where if she is left alone she has no ill intent to anyone. No desire to hurt them. 

She and Loki end up having three children together and are technically married—but Loki is also married to another god, which I won’t go into because the relations between gods will alwyas be messy and incest-y like House of the Dragon. Anyway, tangent aside, Angrboda’s children are all strange, to put it mildly. Her firstborn—a daughter—died in utero. But using her powers, Angrboda brought her back, which she really wasn’t supposed to do. So when the girl is born her legs aren’t quite right. Her second born is born a wolf—don’t ask too many questions. And her third born is born a serpent—again, don’t ask questions, it’ll be easier if you just accept things as they happen. 

Then things get interesting: we get this first part of the story where life is calm and domesticated for Angrboda, and then it all begins to unravel. It unravels as people find out her power and about her children, and they begin to fear her. Angrboda starts to piece back together parts of her old life, and she tries her hardest to hide her children from the gods at the edge of the world. 

Gods have never been known for being great at their relationships, and there becomes a rift between Loki and Angrboda as their children get older. Loki leaves for long periods of time to be among the gods and his other family, which Angrboda was fine with at first. But as the children get older, they notice their father’s absence, and it begins to affect them. This leads to a fight between Angrboda and Loki and he calls her the Mother of Monsters. Being the protective mother that she is, Angrboda goes off on him—as she should, because after all, they are his children too. 

Unfortunately during this interaction her son hears his father call him a monster and insult his mother and on top of that Loki’s other wife decides to show up. Really poor timing and maybe we should rethink having arguments in the woods. This sets off a catalyst for things to go really downhill. 

Loki’s other wife proceeds to tell the gods where Angrboda is hiding and they are in agreement that she is the Mother of Monsters, even though her children were not dangerous when she raised them. It was after they were taken from her that they became vengeful against the gods who stole them from their mother. The story ties into the Norse myth Ragnarok—yes, like the Marvel movie—and it’s filled with heartbreak. 

Gornichec tells a story of a mother trying her best to protect her children from a world that would be unkind to them. It is a plight any person can understand even if they don’t have children yet. Angrboda gets used and pushed aside and written off as a villain in stories but here we see her struggle and try to still do what is right.

It’s a great retelling, even if you are not familiar with Norse mythology—I myself did not know much aside from what I learned through Marvel movies. Gornichec does a good job of breaking down the character relations and telling you who is who. Overall I would recommend it to a friend; the ending was 100% worth the read.

Next up in our spooky reads will be “The Lost Apothecary” by Sarah Penner.

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