Circe – Madeline Miller

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. 

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

A little late in reviewing, but this was one of my favorite reads last year! I’m a sucker for any kind of mythology so I had a feeling I would already like this, but it turned out even better than expected. Miller is so damn good at weaving together her story that I couldn’t put it down (I tore through it in 2 days!), and even though Circe wasn’t much of a character to me at first, I was thoroughly cheering for her by the end.

The storytelling is incredibly vivid. Whenever a god appeared I felt the perfection and beauty and radiance; whenever Circe was dealt yet another cruel setback, I ached and sometimes cried along with her. Miller also did a great job giving a sense of just how many generations Circe’s life spanned, and while the ending was a little abrupt, it still fit.

There were a couple of things I wished were better, with the first being the narration style. A lot of the book is just really passive. On the one hand, it makes sense – Circe’s stuck on an island for hundreds of years, there’s not much going on and she has to receive all her stories from visitors. But that goes directly against the classic writer’s mantra of “show, don’t tell”, and several parts felt almost boring to read because we were reading about someone telling her things, instead of about any direct action itself.

Secondly, Circe’s not the most interesting character herself because she comes off as kind of…pathetic. Not going to lie, for most of the book I kind of wanted to take Circe by the shoulders and give her a good shake. Grow a spine! Stand up to your bullies! Stop being sad and mopey and like the spinster aunt no one wants to hang out with at Christmas parties! But by the end she finally owned her abilities and took on this world-weary “I’m done with dealing with shit” attitude that I just loved.

And finally on a much more minor note, the book mentions her hawk-yellow eyes so often that the cover totally should’ve reflected that. Don’t leave easy wins like that on the table, publishers!

Regardless, the book was still amazing and I loved watching Circe grow more self-assured over time. I’m pretty well-versed in Greek mythology, but I still learned SO much about not only Circe but also the other gods and mortals she meets. Highly recommend this to anyone who hasn’t already read it!

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