Audiobook Review: The Witch’s Heart by Genevieve Gornichec
I received a review copy from the publisher. This does not affect the contents of my review and all opinions are my own.
Mogsy’s Rating (Overall): 4 of 5 stars
Series: Stand Alone
Publisher: Penguin Audio (February 9, 2021)
Length: 12 hrs and 4 mins
Narrator: Jayne Entwistle
In the tradition of Madeline Miller’s Circe comes Genevieve Gornichec’s debut The Witch’s Heart, a creative reimagining the life of the Norse mythological figure Angrboda. The world may know her as the lover of Loki and the mother of monsters, but this novel seeks to present her as something more—a fiercely passionate and driven woman who will do anything to protect her children.
In the beginning is fire and death; Odin the All-Father is angered by a witch who denies him access to any more magic, so he punishes her by tearing out her heart and burning her at the stake. Thanks to her powers though, she was able to survive but just barely. Weakened and wounded, she retreats to the forest at the edge of world where she can be left unbothered and alone.
However, this new life of seclusion was interrupted when the trickster god Loki, having found the witch’s missing heart, decided to seek her out to return it. The two of them end up falling in love, and in time, three children are born from their marriage—Hel, who will later rule over the realm of the dead; Fenrir, the monstrous wolf; and Jormungand, the world serpent. All three of them, in some way, are prophesied to play a part in the coming of Ragnarok, the final destruction of the world, but to Angrboda, her children are her life and happiness. For their protection, she decides to raise them alone in the quiet and peaceful forest, shielding them away from the world of their father, who darts in and out of their lives as he pleases. But soon, the nightmares and visions start to become too much, and it is only a matter of time before prophesy catches up to Angrboda and her children, setting in motion a chain of events that will test her courage and will to overcome insurmountable challenges.
If you enjoy mythological fantasy and beautiful retellings, then you will love The Witch’s Heart. One does not even need to know much about Norse mythology to appreciate this novel, since at its core, the story is really more a character study of Angrboda than a rehash of the events that lead to Ragnarok. We begin with a low-key introduction to the protagonist, who simply wishes to live a quiet life as she recovers from the horrific ordeal of her burning. Still, even then, readers can sense the strength and powerful personality behind the character, which is only more apparent once Loki enters the picture. The dialogue is heavy early on, but it is also sublimely written, especially the banter between the trickster and our girl Angrboda, who is able to match her lover’s wit with a fiery intelligence and punchiness of her own.
Then there are the themes of love, friendship, and motherhood, which made this book an even greater joy to read. Little is written and known about Angrboda compared to her more famous husband and children, so in many ways, this gave the author more freedom and creativity to explore the character. What Angrboda wants is what any loving mother wants—to see her children thrive and be happy. When that is threatened, the results were gut-wrenching and difficult to read. Ultimately, The Witch’s Heart might be retelling of mythological events and figures, but its main character’s motivations and feelings are all human, and the theme of the devoted mother was the one that came through strongest of all. In addition to blending the myth with fiction, Gornichec managed to weave in layers of heartfelt emotion and meaning on top of the narrative, and the result is a very personal and relatable tale.
Overall, I found this novel to be a poignant and magical read. No doubt it’s a must for fans of mythological fantasy and retellings, but I have a feeling it will also speak to anyone who enjoys multilayered and character-focused stories of family and friendships. Crafted with no small amount of dedication and skill, The Witch’s Heart dazzled me, and I will be watching out for the author’s future work with great interest.
Audiobook Comments: My first impression of Jayne Entwistle’s performance was that her voice might have sounded a little too flat and mellow for Angrboda, but as the story went on, I think it became a better match as I gained a deeper appreciation and understanding for the character.