Author: Madeline Miller
Genre: fantasy; historical fiction; retelling; mythology;
Synopsis: (from Goodreads) In the house of Helios, god of the sun and mightiest of the Titans, a daughter is born. But Circe is a strange child—not powerful, like her father, nor viciously alluring like her mother. Turning to the world of mortals for companionship, she discovers that she does possess power—the power of witchcraft, which can transform rivals into monsters and menace the gods themselves.
Threatened, Zeus banishes her to a deserted island, where she hones her occult craft, tames wild beasts and crosses paths with many of the most famous figures in all of mythology, including the Minotaur, Daedalus and his doomed son Icarus, the murderous Medea, and, of course, wily Odysseus.
But there is danger, too, for a woman who stands alone, and Circe unwittingly draws the wrath of both men and gods, ultimately finding herself pitted against one of the most terrifying and vengeful of the Olympians. To protect what she loves most, Circe must summon all her strength and choose, once and for all, whether she belongs with the gods she is born from, or the mortals she has come to love.
Review: 5 STARS
Circe was, to date, my favorite read of 2019. I’d read Madeline Miller’s The Song of Achilles first (you can read my review of that one HERE) and knew going in that I would love the writing, but I didn’t realize quite how much.
With authors’ second books, you find yourself hoping for greatness, and in series, you’re generally hyped and not too severely disappointed, but in standalone books, it’s hard to gauge. Is it going to be as good as X? No? Oh well… But Madeline Miller does not disappoint with Circe.
Yes, this book is in the same universe, and yes, Achilles and Patroclus appear here, but this book can be read before or after The Song of Achilles and it won’t really matter if you know your original myths.
Miller has done her own retelling of the Iliad and the Odyssey from a different viewpoint. The Song of Achilles was the Iliad and Circe is the Odyssey. That’s really what these books are for me. They’re retellings of Homer’s epic poems. But instead of The Best of the Greeks getting the glory (ie: Odysseus in this novel, Achilles in her first) it’s really Circe who becomes “greater.”
Against all odds and literally ALL GODS, she thrives and becomes so powerful that the Olympians and the Titans are afraid of her. I think that is so badass. Like, she’s the first “come at me bro” in history. She doesn’t do his for her own glory like the heroes do either, she does this because she has to stay sane. She’s a goddess, it’s not like she’s going to wither away and die, or starve, but she could definitely go mad, right? But instead, Circe becomes the best of them all, and even Telegonus realizes it before the end of the novel.
I am IN LOVE with Madeline Miller’s writing style and below, I’m going to write out one of my favorite scenes to demonstrate (see: fangirl) a little. You can skip over the italics and what’s in between, and come back after the long ——- if you’d like to avoid anything directly from the book.
“Brides, nymphs were called, but that is not really how the world saw us. We were an endless feast laid out upon a table, beautiful and renewing. And so very bad at getting away.”
Miller’s description of the inescapable reality of Circe’s plight is tragic and so beautifully written. It mirrors what she does as a character to the men on her island, except that as nymphs they suffer endlessly — immortality really is a beast when you’re a prize to be sought after, isn’t it?.
Later in the same passage, she talks about pigs escaping and throwing themselves over cliffs. Circe wonders, “if it were a man… would I pity him. But it was not a man.”
Walking by the sty she comments on how they are only sorry to be caught, not sorry for invading her island and her person, and her power and ruthlessness is on full display as she shows them no mercy here. I love the straight up potency Miller fills her with as she says to the pigs, “Sorry you were caught… Sorry that you thought I was weak, but you were wrong.”
In that moment, reading that passage, I had full on goosebumps.
Overall, I really loved how Circe, as a novel, is able to tell us so much about the Greek world. We meet major heroes and characters from myth like Minos, Daedalus, Jason, and Medea. We learn more about Circe as the witch in myth, and how a witch is certainly different from a goddess, and in her case, more powerful, and more feared.
But in the last 100 or so pages, Miller does something brilliant I think. She answers some of my most pressing questions about Odysseus’s return to Ithaca. She’s filled in the gaps on the Odyssey story. It’s really ingenious because Circe is in exile, on a tiny island, and yet, her narrative completes the story that spans the entire Greek world.
We also get to see a vengeful and spiteful Athena, and while I love grey-eyed Athena, patron of wily Odysseus and benevolent Athena— this one was better. It makes me think that maybe Miller’s gearing up to give us the Medusa story we all deserve?
If you haven read either of Madeline Miller’s texts and you’re ready for a more mature take on Greek myth— pick up both of her books now!