Review of The Weaver and the Witch Queen, by Genevieve Gornachec

The Weaver and the Witch Queen

by Genevieve Gornachec
read by Nina Yndis

Books on Tape, 2023. 16 hours, 26 minutes.
Review written March 9, 2024, from a library eaudiobook.
Starred Review

The Weaver and the Witch Queen is a story set in 10th century Norway. The word “Viking” isn’t used, but most of the men make their livelihood going on raids. This story focuses on Gunnhild, an actual historical figure who became one of the most powerful women in Norway. An Author’s Note at the end tells about what the author knew from historical documents (often conflicting) and what she imagined.

The book begins when Gunnhild is a child, the youngest in her family and subject to constant abuse from her mother. But she has two dear friends who are sisters, Oddny and Signy. They swear an oath to always be there for one another. But when a seeress comes through and declares that their fates are tied together in a bad way, Gunnhild sneaks away to be an apprentice of the seeress — with the goal of becoming a powerful woman like she is.

However, twelve years later, Gunnhild is traveling in the “way witches do” in the form of a swallow, and she witnesses a raiding party attacking and destroying the home and family of Oddny and Signy. Oddny escapes, with the help of the swallow that is Gunnhild, but Signy is carried off to be enslaved.

The rest of the book is mostly about Oddny and Gunnhild in their determination to rescue Signy. The first big obstacle is that it’s winter. So they both spend time in the camp of the king’s son and heir Aeric in order to leave as soon as the weather allows them to travel again. Gunnhild hopes to travel to the underworld and learn where Signy has been taken. Oddny hopes to get silver from a man captured from those who raided her family and be able to afford to go after her.

But much happens that winter. Gunnhild is presented with another option for gaining power. Aeric is set to inherit the throne of Norway, but he has gotten that position through violence, murdering his brother at the request of his father because his brother was influenced by witchcraft. But his remaining brother is seeking to destroy Aeric through witchcraft — and the witches in his employ are seeking to destroy Gunnhild and were behind the destruction of Oddny’s home.

Sound complicated? The plot moves along at a gentle pace and it all makes sense, but there’s plenty of drama underneath it all to keep you interested. The method of witchcraft seemed completely plausible, though the author invented it. And Gunnhild’s insecurities about her apprenticeship being interrupted and all the other emotional undercurrents seemed authentic. The narrator Nina Yndis does a wonderful job with the Norwegian names. I also appreciated that there was what we would call a transgender Viking, and his existence and motivations were all handled well. The word “transgender” was never used, but we learn that his father gave him a girl’s name at birth.

In all, this book gives a richly detailed, obviously well-researched world and a wonderful story of a woman claiming power in that world.

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Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but the views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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