August 2023

The Weaver and the Witch Queen

By Genevieve Gornichec
Review by
Genevieve Gornichec’s sophomore novel, The Weaver and the Witch Queen, is a vivid tapestry of the struggles and triumphs of Viking women, including the legendary Queen Gunnhild.
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In their youth, sisters Signy and Oddny and their friend Gunnhild were linked by a prophecy portending great sacrifice and sorrow—but also the potential for great power. The three girls swore themselves to one another after hearing the prophecy, promising to always be there for one another. But their paths diverged after the seer ferried Gunnhild away to train as a witch, allowing her to escape her mother’s constant abuse. Years later, Signy and Oddny’s homestead is attacked and Signy is stolen away by raiders led by a mysterious and vindictive witch, forcing Gunnhild to return to the home she fled so many years ago. From the future king of Norway to one of the very raiders who stole Signy away, Gunnhild and Oddny must befriend unlikely allies in their quest to save their bonded sister and, in the process, confront the prophecy that linked them all those years ago. 

Gornichec’s debut novel, The Witch’s Heart, was lyrical and dreamlike, but The Weaver and the Witch Queen is as precise as a needle, threading together a vivid tapestry of the joys and terrors of 10th-century Viking life under the reign of King Harald Fairhair. Gornichec obviously revels in historical accuracy, and never sugarcoats what it meant to live in medieval Northern Europe. From frank depictions of the lot of Viking thralls (people enslaved during raids) to the threat of being married off for political alliances, she doesn’t shy away from the ugly parts of the society that she’s recreated. But despite the less than savory parts of this world, Gornichec’s joy in being able to share it is palpable, suffusing her prose with a wonder befitting a story dripping in ancient magic. 

While The Weaver and the Witch Queen includes legendary male figures from Norwegian history such as Harald Fairhair and Eirik Bloodaxe, it focuses on the struggles of women. Eirik and his ilk are certainly interesting characters, but theirs are stories that have largely been told. Gornichec’s novel, rather, is about women in conflict, whether that conflict is with their own mothers, with rival witches or between two best friends. Gornichec exults the cleverness of these women and their power to thrive through their communities and their own strength of will. It’s a saga of blood and magic and hardship that explores what we owe to those we love—and what it costs to actually pay that debt.

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