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The Weaver and the Witch Queen: A Novel
By: Genevieve Gornichec
Published: July 25, 2023
Genre: Historical Fiction, Fantasy, Historical Fantasy, Mythology
You have so much to fight for, and when it’s over—when you’ve sent you enemies to feast in our halls, when you’ve made their bodies dinner for the crows, when you’ve left nothing but blood and terror in your wake—all the worlds will know you for who you are. They will know your greatness. And they will know you as a mother of kings, (32).
History is a continuous narrative in which a few notable figures fade from a “glorious” individual to an esoteric one. It happens more often than we all want to admit, but it does occur. We take for granted that we can learn about these figures whenever we want to; yet, there are historical figures across the world who we’ve never heard of before because they are from eras and from locations which are “unfamiliar” to us—we wouldn’t know where to begin with learning about them. Genevieve Gornichec presented us with her interpretation of the Norse Gods in her debut novel—The Witch’s Heart. In her sophomore novel—The Weaver and the Witch Queen—we are treated to an interpretation of Gunnhild, “Mother of Kings,” and one of the first queens of, a then newly united, Norway.
There are 2 protagonists in this novel. The first is Gunnhild Ozurardottir, the daughter of Ozur Eyvindsson and Solveig Alfsdottir—who are the equivalent of a Lord and a Lady. At the beginning of this novel, Gunnhild is 12 years-old and is her parents’ youngest child. You would believe Gunnhild was a pampered daughter of a lord, but she is not treated as such. Her mother is verbally and emotionally abusive towards her, and no one, except Yrsa—the mother of Signy and Oddny Ketilsdottir, who reside at a farm near the Eyvindsson lands—tries to shield Gunnhild from the worse of it, when she is present. Gunnhild’s only reprieve from her mother is when Signy and Oddny—the second protagonist—visit her. Signy is a year older than Gunnhild and is just as mischievous and as goal-oriented as her, while Oddny is a year younger than Gunnhild, but she is content with spinning thread and with learning how to be a healer. On the night of her friends’ arrival, a seeress comes to the hall as well. That night, all 3 girls go up to have their fate told…and, to everyone’s shock (and in some cases, anger), are told their fates are intertwined (amongst other things). Before Gunnhild faces her mother’s wrath for “embarrassing her,” all 3 girls decide to take a blood oath promising one another to always be there for each other. 12 years later, Signy and Oddny’s farm has been attacked by raiders. Everyone, including their mother and brother, are killed, and Signy is captured. Oddny manages to escape and makes her way towards the Eyvindsson hall to warn them. At the same time, Gunnhild—now a witch from years of tutelage under her mentor, Heid—tries to save both Signy and Oddny, but only manages to save Oddny. Now, these sworn sisters must gather their courage, their skills, and their power in order to save Signy. Even if that means forming alliances through marriage pacts. Gunnhild is ready to demonstrate how powerful she’s become; and, Oddny wants revenge for the deaths of her family and for the destruction of her home and her way of life.
The main plot in this novel focus on the “blood oath” Gunnhild, Oddny and Signy took together as children; the immediate effect afterwards; and, the long-term actions of this “promise” to “always be there for each other.” Right after the girls swear the blood oath, Gunnhild is “separated” from her “sworn sisters.” 12 years pass before the 3 friends—now adult women—meetup again; and, the reason for it is very unpleasant: raiders attack the Ketilsson farm, abduct Signy, and kill everyone else—save Oddny. It is during the raid that Gunnhild “returns” to fulfill her promise to her childhood friends. But first, Gunnhild needs to “reunite” with those she left behind, including Oddny. Next, both Gunnhild and Oddny need to figure out how to rescue Signy because neither one of them have funds nor have allies to go on a rescue mission. Not to mention two other reasons. One, war is on the horizon, and it will be amongst the sons of King Harald Fairhair—including his chosen heir, Eirik Haraldsson. Two, the witches have involved themselves in these conflicts, and they all have chosen different sides to support, which in turn, means there are witches amongst all sides of the Viking warriors for the impending war. If each opposing side has a witch, then which side will triumph? The side with the best fighter? The sides with the more powerful witch? The side with the king’s and/or the gods’ favor? Or, a combination of all three? There are a few subplots in the narrative, but the main one would be the different methods both Gunnhild and Oddny perform in order to rescue Signy. It should be mentioned that Gunnhild and Signy have similar personalities, while Oddny was the odd one out from the trio. That being said, both young women must face their trauma as they pursue their lost sister. Gunnhild hasn’t seen her family for around 12 years—with good reason—and Oddny lost almost her entire family swiftly and violently. For now, Signy is Oddny’s only surviving relative. Their blood oath and their love for one another binds them together, but they are no longer children. Gunnhild and Oddny have grown into women who are more different now than when they were as children. Gunnhild’s quest for power always has been her focus to while Oddny’s isolated upbringing makes it difficult for her to know her true allies from her true foes at times. Both young women want to save Signy as well, but can they find a way to work together? This subplot is essential to the plot because the audience is presented with both the external and the internal conflicts within the narrative, which adds elements of realism to the story. In this case, no one can stop the impending war, so the focus shifts to the more straightforward and more direct conflicts.
The narrative is told in the present tense in 3rd person limited from the points-of-view of both Gunnhild and Signy. The P.O.V. of the protagonists are interesting and are essential because the audience learns how these 2 different women with shared childhoods matured separately, and then must navigate themselves in a male-dominated society because they are still seen as women. However, it is through the skills they’ve gained and maintained over the years—Gunnhild is a witch and Oddny is a healer—which allow these female protagonists to make their way in the world (to rescue Signy) and to gain social status through traditional and non-traditional methods. The streams-of-consciousness of the protagonists are continuous as seen in the prose. The breaks within the narration demonstrate when the scene shifts; and, the chapters alert us when an event involving different characters is happening either at the same time, or after the events involving the other protagonist. The streams-of-consciousness allows the audience to experience any and all emotions the P.O.V. characters are experiencing, including doubt in their abilities and acknowledgement of any mistakes they make. All of these narrative choices present both Gunnhild and Oddny as reliable narrators. The narrative is more fast-paced than the author’s previous work, but the audience will be able to follow it just as easily.
The style Genevieve Gornichec uses for The Weaver and the Witch Queen involves a lot of creativity by her in order to introduce the historical figure who is (Queen) Gunnhild to those who never heard of her (such as myself) while presenting a “new” variant of the queen’s history and legend to those who were familiar with her name and with her role in history. In addition, the author presents a believable portrayal of both protagonists by giving both female characters reasons to be so driven towards achieving their goals. The main reason for this is the trauma both female protagonists experience and endure as they continue on with their lives. Oddny’s trauma is more recent and more straightforward—she survives a home invasion. Her trauma is more relatable amongst other characters she meets and interacts with throughout the narrative. Meanwhile, Gunnhild’s trauma goes back to the abuse she suffered by her own mother. To make matters worse, only 1 person attempted to protect Gunnhild from her mother; and sadly, it wasn’t anyone from Gunnhild’s family. Gunnhild’s decision to leave and to become “powerful” is due to the abuse she experienced at home. And, while Gunnhild does become a powerful witch, she struggles at times with doubt because she remains scared that she isn’t “strong enough” to do what needs to be done. The struggle and the resilience of trauma by these female protagonists demonstrate the reality within the fiction. The mood in this novel deal with the inevitable. For 3 young girls, they were foretold that their futures would be intertwined, which was confirmed when they swore a blood oath to one another. Now, as adults, they work together to make sure their inevitable fate ends with all 3 of them surviving. At the same time, war is coming, and all of the opposing sides have at least 1 witch “assisting” their leader. The war is inevitable, but there has to be a victor. Who will it be? The tone in this novel is persistence. The protagonists know the path towards their goals is filled with opposition; and, their allies are facing similar difficulties. And yet, the protagonists and the main characters persist not only to survive, but also to defeat their enemies.
I believe the appeal for The Weaver and the Witch Queen will be positive. Early reviews for the author’s sophomore novel are positive, and the ratings are as high as those for the author’s debut novel. However, it should be mentioned that this book will appeal to one group of readers over another one. This novel is a historical retelling of an individual with elements of fantasy. The author’s previous novel is a retelling about one of the goddesses from that same region in our world. Everyone who read The Witch’s Heart might not enjoy this novel due to the lack of gods in it. And yes, history and folklore are intertwined, yet there are enough differences that both can remain separate. So, if you enjoyed The Bear and the Nightingale, The Poppy War, The Priory of the Orange Tree, and The Witch and the Tsar, then you will enjoy this book. The historical fantasy subgenre continues to expand; especially those whose narratives present a retelling of a historical figure. Fans of historical fiction about Vikings will enjoy this book as well.
The Weaver and the Witch Queen is a strong and an action-filled follow-up to the author’s debut novel. Only this time, the magic of the women is stronger. This look into the woman who will become a strong, yet powerful leader is captivating and fast-paced with plenty of well-rounded characters who will make you overlook the few predictable, though necessary, moments in the narrative. Read and learn a bit about Norway’s “first queen” from an author who knows how to weave history with folklore to presents a new and an intriguing narrative.
My Rating: Enjoy It (4.5 out of 5).