Author: Madeline Miller
Publication date: April 8, 2018
Genre: Fantasy, Historical Fiction
My Rating: 4 stars
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.
With unforgettably vivid characters, mesmerizing language and page-turning suspense, Circe is a triumph of storytelling, an intoxicating epic of family rivalry, palace intrigue, love and loss, as well as a celebration of indomitable female strength in a man’s world
After I finished The Song of Achilles last month, I couldn’t wait to get my hands on Madeline Miller’s follow up because of the impact her writing had on me. I immediately pre-ordered this book and then tried my luck on Netgalley because waiting two months for my copy just seemed unfathomable. To my surprise, I was approved for this arc and I’m happy to say that I enjoyed this book tremendously and the incredible character journey.
Circe is the firstborn of the Titan god, Helios, and the lower Oceanid nymph, Perse. She’s an outcast, despised by her family, and later exiled to the island of Aiaia after she turns a rival into a monster. During her exile, she becomes a student of her craft and crosses paths with Odysseus and other unexpected mythological characters like Prometheus, Daedalus and Icarus, the Minotaur, as well as Medea and Jason.
Circe didn’t have the same emotional impact The Song of Achilles had on me, but it is still a masterpiece and an incredible interpretation of the Odyssey from Circe’s point-of-view. This story is rich and complicated! The plot is character driven and intricately woven with other myths and like The Song of Achilles, the prose is eloquent, mesmerizing, and poetic. Plus, the gods are meddlesome and brilliantly characterized.
What I loved most about Circe was the writing and character development. Circe is a likable character with fears, insecurities, and easy to root for. At times, I thought she was too naive and too kind, but for the most part, I liked the way Miller brought her to life. I thought Miller did a wonderful job of portraying the conflict she faced by being caught in between two worlds and that she captured the emotions of this character well. I liked Circe’s progression from a quite child who desperately wants to be liked to a confident woman — both in her craft and herself. I also enjoyed how perceptive Circe was portrayed in Miller’s interpretation. This was something that stood out to me while reading and I loved that she wasn’t written as a weak and unintelligent character.
I also loved that the gods have a bigger role in this book. I found the side characters interesting and at times during the plot, I wondered about their fate and hoped to see more interactions with them. I liked that Miller introduced the characters she did because it made Circe’s exile more interesting and allowed us to experience Circe’s time on the island in a more captivating way.
I enjoyed Circe tremendously; however, there was one particular aspect that bothered me. I expected this world to be filled with misogyny, violence, and rape; however, the sexual violence scene in Circe felt unnecessary. Because I’m not too familiar with mythology surrounding this character, I’m not sure if that was the author’s decision or canon material. In my opinion, sexual violence as a device to further the plot was not needed and this was the reason I couldn’t give this 5 stars. I think Miller handled the traumatization of that experience well; however, I believe she could’ve arrived at Circe turning men into pigs without the rape.
Overall, I would definitely recommend this book if you enjoyed The Song of Achilles and to anyone who wants to read a beautiful fictional narrative. It doesn’t have as much action and didn’t have the same emotional impact as The Song of Achilles, but it’s beautifully written and Circe shines. Greek myth tends to focus on male heroes and male gods, so I appreciated this female perspective.
Thank you to Little, Brown and Company and Netgalley for providing me a copy of this book
Trigger warning: Rape