Book Club Review: “The Witch’s Heart”

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We are part of a group of librarian friends who have had an ongoing book club running for the last several years. Each “season” (we’re nerds) we pick a theme and each of us chooses a book within that theme for us all to read. Our current theme is retellings and re-imaginings.  For this blog, we will post a joint review of each book we read for book club. We’ll also post the next book coming up in book club. So feel free to read along with us or use our book selections and questions in your own book club!

Book: “The Witch’s Heart” by Genevieve Gornichec

Publishing Info: Ace Books, February 2021

Where Did We Get This Book: The library!

Where You Can Get This Book: WorldCat | Amazon | Indiebound

Retelling/Re-imagining: Norse Mythology

Book Description: Angrboda’s story begins where most witches’ tales end: with a burning. A punishment from Odin for refusing to provide him with knowledge of the future, the fire leaves Angrboda injured and powerless, and she flees into the farthest reaches of a remote forest. There she is found by a man who reveals himself to be Loki, and her initial distrust of him transforms into a deep and abiding love.

Their union produces three unusual children, each with a secret destiny, who Angrboda is keen to raise at the edge of the world, safely hidden from Odin’s all-seeing eye. But as Angrboda slowly recovers her prophetic powers, she learns that her blissful life—and possibly all of existence—is in danger.

With help from the fierce huntress Skadi, with whom she shares a growing bond, Angrboda must choose whether she’ll accept the fate that she’s foreseen for her beloved family…or rise to remake their future. From the most ancient of tales this novel forges a story of love, loss, and hope for the modern age.

Kate’s Thoughts

While I have a pretty extensive knowledge of Greek Mythology thanks to an obsession with it in grade school, Norse Mythology is pretty outside of my wheelhouse. I know some of the basic things, and have a general working knowledge of the various Gods and the whole concept of Ragnorak, but it’s sparse when compared to other people I’d imagine. So I was going into “The Witch’s Heart” without much idea of what to expect when it came to our protagonist Angrboda, the witch who eventually gave birth to Loki’s monster children who help usher in the apocalypse myth. But that just made me game to give it a shot, especially since it was getting the “Circe” treatment and retelling a story with a character who doesn’t have as much to do in the original myths. And for the most part, I enjoyed “The Witch’s Heart”, but that may be because I had few expetations.

For one thing, I really liked the emotional exploration of Angrboda as a woman used by powerful men, as well as the emotional exploration of her as a mother to her children, as atypical as they may be. And by atypical I mean a half corpse daughter, a wolf, and a serpent. But I really got a sense of her love for all of them and the way that she was desperate to protect them, while also falling for Loki no matter how dysfunctional that relationship was. The way she was written to me made me believe it, even though sometimes I wanted to shake her and be like ‘SERIOUSLY, THIS GUY?’ (so does her huntress friend Skadi, a character that I also found intriguing though I think I needed more of her. Also, damn you Tom Hiddleston for making Loki so damn likable, because this version, while more true to the myth, was a punk). The relatable emotional bits were what really kept me engaged, as I was deeply invested in her relationship with her kids event though I did know that it would all end in tears because of the myths they are based upon. That being said, I also thought that there were bits where it kind of dragged after abrupt tone shifts that didn’t work as well for me. I was far more interested in her being a mother in the forest as opposed to the end of world action that was inevitably going to take place.

Ultimately I was entertained by “The Witch’s Heart”. I’m still into these outside the box retellings of mythological women, and would love to see more that push beyond the obvious Greek stories, so that made this one all the more enjoyable.

Serena’s Thoughts

I’m fairly familiar with Norse mythology. Not an expert, by any means, but I already knew the story being retold here fairly well, as well as the major players involved. That was both a plus and a minus as far as my reading experience goes. Like Kate, I’m really enjoying this current surge of books being published that reimagine or create stories for lesser known characters, often women, from mythology. I also really like the fact that we are venturing beyond the much more popular Greek pantheon.

Angrboda was almost a perfect character for this sort of retelling. She doesn’t have much as far as the original lore, so there was a lot of room to portray her story. And somehow I think the author both did too much and too little. On one hand, the story was very faithful to the major plot points of the Norse story from which it is derived. But almost too much? I would have liked a few more creative interpretations brought in. Also, like Kate said, I think Angrboda’s character was given some interesting themes to cover, especially with regards to her relationship to her children and to her unhealthy relationship with her husband, Loki. But on the other hand, I felt like she was a bit more passive of a character than I would have expected or hoped for from a woman who has birthed literal monsters!

I also agree with Kate that the pacing of this book felt a bit off. The first half is fairly slow with a lot of time spent with Angrboda hanging out in a cave in the woods. The storytelling was also interrupted by lots of banter from Loki. Which, on one hand, I liked a lot of the dialogue, but I also felt like there were times where the author got rather self-indulgent with it. And then there’s a massive tonal shift in the second half where we’re fulling into the world-shifting dramatics.

Overall, I felt like this book was a bit all over the place. Are my expectations unreasonably high from “Circe?” Probably. But was this the best that could have been done with this story or these characters? I don’t think so.

Kate’s Rating 7: A retelling of a source material I have not so much knowledge of that kept my attention and had some emotional moments, though also some dragging ones.

Serena’s Rating 7: A bit uneven in pacing as well as characterization, but something that will likely appeal to readers who are looking for a different pantheon to explore in their mythological retellings.

Book Club Questions

  1. How familiar are you with Norse Mythology? Could you predict how things were going to go based how much you knew about it?
  2. What did you think of Angrboda as a protagonist? What did you like or dislike about her?
  3. What did you think about Angrboda’s relationships in this story, whether it was Loki, Skadi, or her children?
  4. Did you have any thoughts on how Loki was presented and interpreted in this novel?
  5. There have been a lot of marketing comparisons between this book and Madeline Miller’s “Circe”. What did you think of this marketing choice?
  6. The parts of this book were separated out in very deliberate chunks of time and very deliberate themes. Did you have a part you liked the best?

Reader’s Advisory

“The Witch’s Heart” is included on the Goodreads lists “Hot Girl Mythology Books”, and “Loki: God of Mischief”.

Next Book Club Pick: “Great or Nothing” by Joy McCullough, Caroline Tung Richmond, Tess Sharpe, and Jessica Spotswood

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