I’m thrilled to have a guest post by Genevieve Gornichec to share with you today! She is the author of  The Witch’s Heart, a novel inspired by Norse mythology featuring “a banished witch [who] falls in love with the legendary trickster Loki.” The Weaver and the Witch Queen, her second novel, is coming out in hardcover, ebook, and audiobook in exactly one week—on July 25! I’m delighted she’s here to discuss creating its setting  in “Worldbuilding the Past: A Fantastical Viking Age.”


Cover of The Weaver and the Witch Queen by Genevieve Gornichec
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The lives of two women—one desperate only to save her missing sister, the other a witch destined to become queen of Norway—intertwine in this spellbinding, powerful novel of Viking Age history and myth from the acclaimed author of The Witch’s Heart.

Oddny and Gunnhild meet as children in tenth century Norway, and they could not be more different: Oddny hopes for a quiet life, while Gunnhild burns for power and longs to escape her cruel mother. But after a visiting wisewoman makes an ominous prophecy that involves Oddny, her sister Signy, and Gunnhild, the three girls take a blood oath to help one another always.

When Oddny’s farm is destroyed and Signy is kidnapped by Viking raiders, Oddny is set adrift from the life she imagined—but she’s determined to save her sister no matter the cost, even as she finds herself irresistibly drawn to one of the raiders who participated in the attack. And in the far north, Gunnhild, who fled her home years ago to learn the ways of a witch, is surprised to find her destiny seems to be linked with that of the formidable King Eirik, heir apparent to the ruler of all Norway.

But the bonds—both enchanted and emotional—that hold the two women together are strong, and when they find their way back to each other, these bonds will be tested in ways they never could have foreseen in this deeply moving novel of magic, history, and sworn sisterhood.

Worldbuilding the Past: A Fantastical Viking Age

One of my favorite quotes from The Children of Ash and Elm: A History of the Vikings, a chunk of a book by scholar Neil Price, is as follows: “history is nothing if not a suppositional discipline, sometimes akin to a sort of speculative fiction of the past.”

Unsurprisingly, as both a fantasy author and a history BA—as well as a Viking Age living history geek—I have latched onto these words, and Children of Ash and Elm is one of the many books I had on hand as I was drafting my sophomore novel, The Weaver and the Witch Queen: a fantastical reimagining of the origin story of Gunnhild, Mother of Kings, a tenth-century queen of Norway.

Weaver is essentially an alternate universe historical fanfiction set in the Viking Age, based on the Icelandic sagas. But how do you realistically build a world that may or may not have already existed, and that people may already have Opinions on? For Weaver, I asked myself a few important questions:

What are the parameters of the world?

Just like with fanfiction, in writing historical fiction or fantasy, you’re writing in a pre-existing world in which there are certain rules. There are basic things to research, like “what sort of technology did they have access to?” and “how did they complete this everyday task?” but there’s also the cultural mindset of the characters.

From the outset, I knew that I’d be bringing my own experiences as a woman in Viking reenactment into the mix, so how Weaver would engage with gender roles in the Viking Age was something I had to consider deeply. I could have very well repainted Gunnhild as some sort of warrior queen and it would have fit perfectly into our popular culture view of Vikings. So why didn’t I?

Because she wasn’t, and more importantly—she doesn’t have to be.

Free women in the Viking Age, especially those of a certain status, arguably had more agency than their counterparts in Europe at the time, and they had other ways of getting what they wanted without physically fighting, especially if they could play the games of honor and politics or had a certain skill set, as Gunnhild did. And in Weaver, the women around her also have their own means of determining their fates: Some of them can physically fight; others use their wit, their practical skills, and even their compassion to make themselves the stars of their own stories.

But if you are indeed into warrior women (and who isn’t?), there are also plenty of Viking and Norse-inspired novels starring shieldmaiden-type characters, such as The Norse Queen by Johanna Wittenburg (a novel about Queen Asa, the great-grandmother of one of the love interests in Weaver, Eirik Blood-axe), and the Hall of Smoke series by H.M. Long.

Which parameters can (and should) be changed?

One thing you may notice if you pick up any one of the Icelandic sagas is that they are heavy on prose and light on dialogue, and the dialogue itself may come off as stilted in some translations, or weirdly modern in others. In my early drafts of Weaver, the characters’ dialogue was very formal—and my beta readers weren’t big fans.

So in subsequent drafts, I tweaked this. Thus Weaver may stretch the boundaries of what is “accurate,” short of using modern slang—but to me, it was more important that my characters spoke and seemed like actual people, rather than having them speak and act stiffly and distantly in the name of historical accuracy. For you, it may be different—it’s all about your priorities and what you want your work to be! Historical fiction writers and readers have different tastes and different expectations, and adding a fantasy element further complicates things.

When you ask yourself the above questions, perhaps answer these ones too: Why am I telling this story? Do I want to attempt total historical accuracy, or veer from the path while still trying to maintain a sense of authenticity? And what roles do the ‘fantasy’ elements play in the story that I’m trying to tell? All are important things to think about when you’re crafting a fantastical tale of days long past.


Photo of Genevieve Gornichec by Daina Faulhaber
Photo Credit: Daina Faulhaber
Genevieve Gornichec earned her degree in history from the Ohio State University, but she got as close to majoring in Vikings as she possibly could, and her study of Norse myths and Icelandic sagas became her writing inspiration. Her national bestselling debut novel, The Witch’s Heart, has been translated into more than ten languages. She lives in Cleveland.