Award Winning Books

This Book Gets Vikings Right: Reading THE WITCH’S HEART


The Chit Chat: hey, y’all! Welcome back to another episode of The Raccoon Awards, a review blog where I, your raccoonish host, make like Gimli and blow the horns of Helm’s Deep about books I need all of Middle Earth to read right now this second. Let’s get to it.

A Bias Note: this particular review should be read with a grain of salt. If you don’t know, I am a Viking reenactor and that’s a very specific background that this book very specifically validated. Normally I write reviews and make claims like “you’ll love this!” with confidence, but in this case, I literally can’t separate out my personal reactions from what a “normal” person would think. I could not be more “target audience” for this book, and this review is my genuine opinion less than a somewhat professional review. So, let’s really get to it this time.

The Synopsis: this is the story of Angrboda Iron-Witch, Sorrow-Bringer, first wife of Loki and mother of “monsters.” This is the story of a woman thrice burned, thrice reborn. This is the story of the gods who lived before Asgard and the gods who lived after. This is the story of Ragnarok.

This plot isn’t a spoiler, it’s straight from Norse myths: Loki’s witch-wife Angrboda and her three “monster” children Hel, Fenris, and Jormungand live out their happy days in Jotunheim until Odin in his knowledge sets a course of interception. He binds the wolf, makes a sea monster of the snake, and abandons a little girl to the dead, sealing the fate of the nine worlds. The end comes for all, but something will always be reborn.

The Hot Takes: Like it says in the title, this book gets Vikings right. If you don’t know, I normally don’t read Viking-based books, because 95% of them, quite frankly, are bs I don’t have time for. As a slight tangent, if no one’s actually told you before: Odin’s a dick. Valhalla isn’t the only good option for an afterlife. Being gay, getting divorced, or being an independent woman were all OK. Most “Vikings” were actually chill farmers growing cabbages in Norway and spinning actual buttloads of wool every year. If you’re looking for a book that rehashes 1,000 year old biased propaganda from monks writing about naughty pagans who stole their gold, this isn’t the one for you. If you’re looking for a book that actually reflects Viking culture, though, this is what you need to read.

I cannot explain to you how hard THE WITCH’S HEART goes in terms of accurate Viking culture. From a two-sentence tangent on making maternity Viking clothes to including nalbinding references (Viking knitting), from homebrewing references to exploring Norse goddesses we don’t often hear about, how clay jars are packed for long journeys, and my personal favorite, treating the sh*ttier gods like the sh*t they are, THE WITCH’S HEART nails it. There’s actually a death scene in the Ragnarok portion where I started crying not because of the emotions, but because the conversation so perfectly embodied the stoic strength of the Viking worldview. It literally moved me to tears to see a book that actually got it this right in a world where disregarding the Eddas, the Havamal, the archeology, etc, is perfectly acceptable if it’s fantasy (please see Marvel. In actual mythology, Loki is Odin’s blood-brother. Stew on what they did).

This book does more than just weave daily Viking life into the text, however. Gornichec makes a strong point to bring in lesser-known goddesses like Gullveig and Skadi. She brings them to life like an ancient skald at a campfire. It’s absolutely magical reading through this text and seeing characters I had heard one or two references of becoming fully-fleshed and gloriously made people. There aren’t any flat characters in this book.

I also love that she took risks with some of the mythology. Obviously this is a new take on Ragnarok, and there are meldings of characters that one wouldn’t possibly expect (if you know your mythology, I gave one away in the synopsis). However, it’s still done in a well-researched way and comes across as an educated “what if” compared to what most Viking content seems to do.

And listen, I f*cking loved this book, ok? I had to stop reading every half hour because I was too excited to breathe and had to go do something else. I cried. I laughed out loud. I made highlights on my e-reader, something which literally never happens?? I could picture every scene in my head. I felt like I was there. It felt… right.

This book is an enchanting delight to read. I shipped the main character at full force with TWO other characters and will never decide which one I wanted her with most. Not to spoil anything, but this is the standard I want all of my bisexual romances to be on, not that this is a romance but because it so perfectly pulls off what bisexual representation actually looks like. It’s also a very fresh take on a very old and well-loved tale. I’m absolutely obsessed with it.

I say this without any exaggeration: my new answer to the question “what’s your favorite book?” has to be The Witch’s Heart.

The Misc: I’m also obsessed with this cover. I specifically love that the white blurb is a Havamal reference. Like. A+.

Does it get a star: I am incredibly proud to give THE WITCH’S HEART a starred review from The Raccoon Awards.

Can I buy it?: THE WITCH’S HEART arrives in stores on February 9th. Friendly reminder that I am a bookseller at Copperfish Books and think it would be really cool if you preorder from us. Click here to do that thing.

Finally, thank you so much for reading! I hope you enjoy!