by Madeline Miller
Published on April 10, 2018 by Lee Boudreaux Books
Genres: Adult, Fantasy
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.
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I went into Circe completely blind. Well, in terms of Miller’s previous work (but I have The Songs of Achilles on my TBR, promise). Sure, I know the story of Circe from reading The Odyssey but that’s where my knowledge ends so I enjoyed exploring the tale through a new lens.
To be clear, this book isn’t for those of you seeking tons of action and adventure. It follows the more lyrical writing style of the older works/translations, which moves the story along slower. If you’re an avid fan of Greek mythology like me, that probably won’t be as much of a problem.
For those of you unfamiliar with the name Circe, she was mentioned in The Odyssey when Odysseus happened upon her island and she turned his men into pigs. In the epic, she’s painted with a more antagonistic flare but here, Miller makes Circe out as a victim of sorts. But not in a bad way. She is humanized despite her divine heritage, neither good nor evil but morally gray. This, for me, made her a strong character from a technical standpoint.
But her immortality was a bit problematic. When you have an immortal character who really doesn’t face life-threatening dangers often, and you pit her against these monsters that you know she’ll escape from, you lose tension. I mentioned the story moving at a slow pace and it really dragged. I like the idea of exploring Circe’s character as she’s not one you’d think to take on for a re-telling, but she also doesn’t have a lot of story behind her to warrant the length of this book.
Then you take this character with a drawn-out history and toss in an assortment of stories from Greek mythology as shorter side stories to give this new creation some depth. When Miller started bringing in the other tales, I wasn’t sure how I’d feel about it. They all worked, and it just shows that Miller is a master at weaving a lyrical story, but something never quite sat right for me throughout it all. Circe was almost too human for a divine witch, almost too vulnerable. Yet not, at the same time.
This book had me all sorts of conflicted.
I’m curious how some of it would have played out if Circe hadn’t been so tame. The Circe I remember from the mythology was a bit vicious and less domesticated. My own expectations going in likely clouded my feelings about this book because I was looking forward to exploring that Circe.
Ultimately, though, I did enjoy reading Circe. I can’t compare it to The Song of Achilles in terms of the author’s work, but I liked it enough that I’m going to read her other book at some point. Did Circe WOW me? No. It was alright, and I enjoyed diving back into mythology with a new book.