I received an e-arc of this book from the publisher in exchange for my honest review. This did not affect my opinion of the book in any way.
Publisher: Titan Books
Published: May 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.
CW: this book contains mentions of violence, death, torture, and pregnancy.
I’m a huge fan of retellings, especially those of myths I’m not very familiar with, so when I heard of a book tackling Norse mythology from the point of view of a woman – a witch! – who’d otherwise been almost completely forgotten, I was unbelievably excited. Unfortunately, The Witch’s Heart didn’t quite live up to my expectations.
The premise was truly great. I’m not very familiar with Norse mythology beyond the very famous gods and I had actually never heard of Angrboda at all, so I enjoyed having the opportunity to learn more about this fascinating character. Right from the start, hers is a tale of sorrow and pain and she is admirable in her strength to pick up the pieces and rebuild her life from scratch, away from everyone and everything she knows – except for Loki, the god of mischief who brought her back her heart, and Skadi, a huntress determined to help Angrboda through trade.
This is, unfortunately, also where my problems with this book started. Angrboda longs for a quiet life far removed from everyone, and for many, many years she manages to enjoy just that. As a result, over half of the book is dedicated to describing Angrboda’s domestic life. Even though that wasn’t exactly what I’d been expecting going into this book, I could have gotten on board with it. Except her domestic bliss was in large part dependent on Loki, and Angrboda spent a disproportionate amount of time just waiting for him to decide to return to her.
The characters were really frustrating for me. Angrboda is an incredibly powerful, strong and resilient woman who, for the majority of the book, just sort of floats along, accepting everything that happens to her and deciding very little for herself. Loki felt incredibly flat and, while I was by no means expecting the Marvel version, he was not intriguing nor compelling in the least. Skadi was definitely my favourite, as she came across as slightly more well-rounded, but even she had little time to shine and her relationship with Angrboda felt stagnant for most of the book, until it suddenly was propelled forward and rushed towards the end.
The pacing also didn’t really work for me. The majority of the book is very slow moving, as we follow Angrboda’s daily life, first by herself and later with her children. Then, things change quite abruptly in the last third or so. The pace did pick up a lot there, to the point where almost too much was happening all at once.
One thing I absolutely loved though was the author’s writing style, and it was probably the biggest redeeming feature for this. The writing is absolutely gorgeous and kept me reading even when nothing much was happening (which would have been prime distraction time!). The settings and the world were beautifully described as well, to the point where I could almost picture them. Some of the dialogues felt a bit stilted, and there was occasionally a mix of older and modern language in the dialogues that felt a bit out of place, but overall that didn’t bother me too much and I could still enjoy the beautiful writing throughout.
The Witch’s Heart is a solid debut, despite some of the issues I personally had with it, and I would absolutely read more from this author. Definitely give this a go if you don’t mind slower pacing and a strong focus on domestic life, or even just if you’re looking to become more familiar with a fascinating, often forgotten character in Norse mythology.