The Witch’s Heart by Genevieve Corniche
Titan, pb, £8.99
Reviewed by Sarah Deeming
Angrboda has the gift of seid, the ability to see the future. Odin wants this talent, but when Angrboda refuses him, Odin burns her. Hiding in the Iron Woods, once the home of the witch mother of wolves, Angrboda yearns for a quiet life until Loki finds her and steals her heart through his mischievous charm. As Angrboda and Loki’s relationship deepens, and they have three children, she begins to see the future Odin wanted her to tell him, one that will involve her children for the worse.
Mythology is full of the deeds of men, and the women are side characters helping the story along or rewards for the men’s actions. We have seen a flurry of retellings of these well-known stories from the women’s point of view, so it’s not a surprise that Norse mythology is now under the spotlight. Angrboda is a witch who is violently mistreated by Odin for not doing what he wanted, and she is Loki’s Jotenhiem wife, the one he has to leave for Sigyn, his Asgard wife. Her children will bring about the end of Asgard and the death of the gods, known as Ragnarok. There is a lot for the reader to sympathise with. Yet, for me, it missed the mark.
The vast majority of the book is spent with Angrboda hiding in her cave, living a domesticated life with her children, and waiting for Loki to come back to her. We don’t see any of Loki’s actions that are bringing about the end of Asgard. Instead, we’re treated to Angrboda’s day-to-day activities bringing up her children and waiting for Loki to return.
I also had an issue with Loki. In the beginning, he came across as helplessly mischievous, and it was easy to understand why Angrboda tolerated him. But his character never develops, he remains a petulant teenager throughout, making it hard to support Angrboda as she continually forgives him for abandoning her. His dialogue, while witty at the start, grates after a while and loses substance. Loki is a vivid character, chaotic and charming, yet in The Witch’s Heart, I felt he was 2-dimensional.
There is some conflict, chiefly through Angrboda’s relationship with the giantess, Skadi. Skadi has strong views about a husband’s place being with his wife and children, and so hates Loki both as Angrboda’s absent husband and for being instrumental in her father’s death without realising they are one and the same. Angrboda deceives her friend and keeps faithful to an inconsistent husband because it was that free nature she fell in love with.
The Witch’s Heart is billed as LGBT, but this is not the main romance in the story. Nor did I feel it was foreshadowed enough to make it a natural relationship. When the F/F romance occurs between Angrboda and Skadi, it felt rushed, like it was added in to make Agnrboda hiding in her cave again a little more interesting. Compared to the time and description that went into Angrboda falling for Loki, it was disappointing.
The key thing about retellings is the author is bound by the original. Angrboda is a tragic character whose respect for her power and the danger of looking too far into the future brings her into conflict with the much stronger gods, costing her her health and her children. Yet, when so much of the book is given to her hiding in a cave, I found it difficult to give her the empathy she so richly deserves.