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The Witch's Heart
by Genevieve Gornichec
Titan Books, $26.00, 368pp
Published: February 2021

When a banished witch falls in love with the legendary trickster Loki, she risks the wrath of the gods in this moving, subversive debut novel that reimagines Norse mythology.

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.

I adore mythology. I admit to favoring Greek Mythology but I devoured all of the mythology I could get my hands over the years, including Norse Mythology. This story catapults off the story of the mother of monsters aka the witch who mothered Loki's more unusual offspring, Fenrir, Hel, and Jörmungandr. But this is not Loki's narrative. This is Angrboda's. And while I loved reading about the gods as a child, as an adult, I found this reimagining of the narrative far more compelling and enthralling. This story is far more layered, far more complex, and decidedly far more feminine in nature.

Rather than being driven by the patriarchal society that we see among the Norse Gods, led by Odin, in this tale, we are told the female point of view. While there are reasons for all Odin does, Angrboda doesn't know those reasons or must discover them, and she is ill-treated by the Norse deities, her soul and body harmed. And yet, this is also a love story.

She falls in love with Loki when he returns her heart and much of the story develops that relationship. It is an intriguing view of Loki, the trickster, as someone who is far less in control than we imagine and yet, still falls short of what he could be. But there are twists and turns within this novel and it is not only the love between Angrboda and Loki that is featured within. It is also the love of a mother for her children, a woman for her friend Skadi, and a woman for her own power as she fights to recover that power to save who and what she can from a cataclysm. And it is ultimately about sacrifice.

I think the most subversive quality about this novel is that a woman's power doesn't come from men. It comes from within her and only she can give it away, only she can choose when and where to use, lose, or sacrifice her power. As women, we so often have our narrative taken away by men but within this story, Angrboda takes back her narrative, her power. I think that is the message all women need to learn, to take back our narrative, our power and only use it as we wish. This novel does a beautiful job of conveying that message all within the confines of a Norse story woven with love and sacrifice, adventure and magic.

This is one of the most powerful tales I've read in a long time. If you love magic, mythology, and a writer that weaves new ideas out of the old, this is a story for you. It is enchanting and not soon forgotten. And it is one of the few stories, where I almost wanted more story so I didn't have to finish.

Rating: 5 out of 5 children. ~~ Andrea Rittschof

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