Robyn Reviews: The Witch’s Heart

‘The Witch’s Heart’ is a retelling of Norse mythology, chronicling the life of the witch Angrboda from the time of her imprisonment by Odin to the end of the gods at Ragnarok. It’s slow to start, but packs an emotional punch – likely more so for anyone who has experienced motherhood.

When a witch refuses to provide Odin with a prophecy of the future, he casts her into the fire and cuts out her heart. However, she survives. Left injured and powerless, she flees to a cave in the mountains of Jotunheim, renaming herself Angrboda and setting out to rebuild her life. There, she is found by the trickster god Loki, who returns her heart. Gradually, Angrboda falls for her unlikely helper, leading to three highly unusual children. However, their fragile peace is threatened by the return of Angrboda’s prophetic powers – and the greed of Odin and the other Aesir to use them. When the treachery of the gods reaches new heights, Angrboda must decide whether to leave her family to their prophesised fate – or to try and reshape the future.

Angrboda is a fascinating character. At the start of the story she’s a mystery even to herself, remembering only her torture by Odin. The more she discovers, the more it becomes apparent that she’s both ancient and powerful – but she struggles between the dichotomy of her peaceful existence as a wife and mother, and her apparent past as a powerful and feared witch. Angrboda is strong, but the quiet sort of strong not often given widespread appreciation. She doesn’t fight any battles or seek any glory – instead, she maintains her home and raises her children and has strength in living exactly the life she wants to live. When that peace is disrupted, she uses her wits and seeks vengeance in a similarly quiet way -and her actions are all the more meaningful for it.

Angrboda has two main romantic relationships across the course of the book – one with Loki, and one with the giantess Skadi. Her relationship with Loki is innately unbalanced and always feels fragile, but Gornichec does well to weave in enough to show why Angrboda stays with him anyway. In contrast, her relationship to Skadi – a long friendship which eventually becomes something more – feels far more natural, although again it’s always clear it isn’t meant to last.

The more interesting relationships, however, are between Angrboda and her three children – Hel, Fenrir,and Jorgamund. Angrboda is widely known from Norse mythology as the mother of monsters – but from her perspective, she is merely a mother. Angrboda fears for her children as any mother would – especially as she is cursed to know their fates. Her fierce protection and desire to protect them above all with resonate with anyone who has experienced parenthood.

The story is split into three parts. The first, Angrboda’s life in Jotunheim, is the slowest and probably the least interesting, although it lays essential groundwork for the later action. The second is the part of Angrboda’s story I was least familiar with before reading this, and I found it fascinating uncovering the missing part of her mythos. There are also some heartbreaking moments. The third, very short part chronicles Ragnarok. This is the most emotionally hard hitting, and really elevates the story from a basic retelling to something with more depth.

Overall, ‘The Witch’s Heart’ is a solid addition to the growing genre of mythological retellings. It doesn’t quite have the impact of stories like Circe or Ariadne, but it’s an accomplished debut and a worthy addition to the shelves of any Norse mythology fan. Recommended for fans of retellings and stories of motherhood.

Thanks to NetGalley and Titan Books for providing an eARC – this in no way affects the content of this review

Published by Titan Books
Paperback: 4th May 2021

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Robyn Reviews: Northern Wrath

Northern Wrath has everything you could want from a Viking novel – dark, gritty, visceral, and firmly rooted in Norse mythology. The characters are intriguing, the plot even more so, but it’s the atmosphere that makes this. At every turn, you feel like you’ve been enveloped in the harsh, unyielding world of the Vikings.

There are many point of view characters – possibly too many, although it’s always very clear which character is being followed – but the most important seem to be Hilda, Einer, and Siv. Hilda is the daughter of Ragnar, the storyteller of Ash-hill, who cannot raid with the other Vikings due to a leg wound suffered in his youth. Hilda wants nothing more than to be a warrior, going on raids and fighting so she can ascend to Valhalla – but her father wants her safe, and the chief has promised that Hilda will never be allowed to raid. Determined not to let that stop her, Hilda takes control of her own fate – with huge consequences. Her ending of this book was incredible and I’m excited to see what happens next.

Einer is the son of the chief, and everyone expects him to be chief after his father. A strong but fair man, he loves Hilda and can’t understand why she keeps refusing to be with him. He also has a secret – a secret which would damage his future forever – that must be kept. Thilde Kold Holdt does a great job making you care for her characters, and no-one shows this better than Einer – he comes across as a lovely, gentle giant, despite being a Viking who regularly kills people.

Siv is Einer’s mother. She has lived in Ash-hill for some time, but it is not her place of origin. If Einer has a secret, Siv has a large box full of particularly angry secrets all desperate to get free and be heard. Her road is very different to Einer and Hilda’s, and she provided a very different perspective. Her relationship with Tyra was heartwarming – Siv was another caring yet deadly character, with deadly somewhat of an understatement.

The other major characters I expect will play a larger role in sequels. Buntrugg is intriguing, especially in the latter half of the book, and I’m interested to see the repercussions of his actions in the sequel. Ragnar has an entirely separate character arc, the meaning of which was not revealed here. His parts are enjoyable, but without any sort of conclusion they almost seem like side notes. Finn is an unlikeable character, but his perspectives spark pity – likely the intent. Sigismund is very wise, and whilst his perspectives add little, he has a lovely relationship with Einer – he’s another character who I think has bigger things to come.

The main issue with this book is that it feels less like a complete novel and more like a part one. It ends with no conclusion and more questions. It would have been nice to have had a more solid ending – after seven hundred pages, the reader deserves some sort of payoff. Nonetheless, this is an excellent story and probably the best Viking or Norse mythology novel I have ever read.

Overall, I highly recommend for fans of Norse mythology and the Vikings. If you’re looking for a gritty epic fantasy with huge scope and excellent worldbuilding, you’ll find it here. I’ll be eagerly looking forward to the next installment – hopefully one with some answers.

 

Published by Rebellion
Paperback: 27th October 2020

Book Review: The Gospel of Loki

The-Gospel-of-Loki

“primitive people always imagine their gods to be something like themselves”

The Gospel of Loki, by Joanne M. Harris, tells the story of the trickster god from his point of view. It is a playful romp through Norse mythology, from Odin’s recruitment of Loki when he was lured from the underworld of Chaos through to the part each of them played in Asgard’s downfall at Ragnarok.

For all his cunning and double crossing, Loki considers himself much put upon. His high opinion of himself rarely falters, his less than admirable actions he excuses as being the result of treatment he has suffered. The gods are portrayed as a vain and posturing set so Loki should have fitted right in. Their reticence and subsequent contempt may have been justified given his unpredictable behaviour, but led in no small part to their undoing.

“So shoot me. It’s my nature.”

Loki wanted acceptance and admiration. He also had appetites and desires that others found distasteful. As with all the best anti-heroes he had a vulnerable side to his character which he did his best to suppress but which endears him to the reader. The more conventional gods had beauty, power, wealth and esteem, but were equally ruthless.

Loki used and was used. His pursuits may have been vainglorious but it is hard not to take his side in this telling of events. As he points out at the beginning of the tale, this is his story, history written from his point of view.

“Take it with a pinch of salt, but it’s as least as true as the official version and, dare I say it, more entertaining.”

The myths around the trickster are all included, told in a light and beguiling manner which brings Loki to life. Structured into short chapters which string the tales involving him together, there are lessons that can be applied to modern life. I did think the overall lacked a certain je ne sais quoi, but it is still an engaging read.

This is not the Marvel universe version of events, although I did have Tom Hiddleston’s Loki in my head as I read. As ever, he played the part rather well.

Recommended for all those who know something of the Norse gods but would like to know more. Also for those who, like me, knew little before Marvel but wish to be educated.

 

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Gratuitous picture of Tom Hiddleston as Loki. You’re welcome.