Book Review: ‘Circe’ by Madeline Miller

Oh what a tale this was. It had more than several hints of greek tragedy, brimmed with ancient myths, gods, and heroes, and had almost a feminist feel to the tale. I loved this book, and I do think ‘Circe’ is one of my favourite female characters.

But let’s get into the full review, shall we?

Synopsis

In the house of Helios, god of the sun and mightiest of the Titans, a daughter is born. But Circe has neither the look nor the voice of divinity, and is scorned and rejected by her kin. Increasingly isolated, she turns to mortals for companionship, leading her to discover a power forbidden to the gods: witchcraft.

When love drives Circe to cast a dark spell, wrathful Zeus banishes her to the remote island of Aiaia. There she learns to harness her occult craft, drawing strength from nature. But she will not always be alone; many are destined to pass through Circe’s place of exile, entwining their fates with hers. The messenger god, Hermes. The craftsman, Daedalus. A ship bearing a golden fleece. And wily Odysseus, on his epic voyage home.

There is danger for a solitary woman in this world, and Circe’s independence draws the wrath of men and gods alike. To protect what she holds dear, Circe must decide whether she belongs with the deities she is born from, or the mortals she has come to love.

My Review

I love myths and legends, and that’s what drew me to this book in the first place. I have yet to read Madeline Miller’s other book about Achilles (though I do have it on my shelf, thanks to a recent trip to Waterstones), but this was a great introduction to her writing and this particular tale about a Greek goddess.

This novel focuses on the witch Circe, who is mentioned in Homer’s The Odyssey. If you know your myths and legends, you’ll recall her as the seductress of the tale, living on an island, who turned men into animals. But this is a story deeper than that, showing Circe’s beginnings, all her decisions and actions, how she came to be on the isle of Aiaia, and why she turns men into pigs. I have to say, after learning why, I don’t blame her.

Circe is strong and determined, though it is lovely to watch as she grows from a young and naive girl into the independent woman she becomes. She has her fair share of love affairs, yet I always got the sense that she distanced herself from them. After her first bout of love and the misfortune that comes from it, I got the impression she was hiding parts of her heart from loving as deeply. Having said that, part of the reason why she distances herself is because she is Immortal, yet she has a number of relationships with mortals. That difference plays up more than once throughout the book, pulling her back from opening up her heart fully, but it’s nice that she attempts to overcome this by the end of the book.

This is a book that’s absolutely character led. You get into the heart of Circe, and she is a stunning character. Hers is a character brimming with complexities. Her passion, her independent nature, her thirst for recognition from the other gods around her. It’s heartbreaking at times, seeing how others deride her because she is different – her voice is mortal, unlike many of the gods and nymphs she grows up with. You watch her history, passing through time, meeting other gods and heroes, other myths and legends. I recognised many – from the legend of The Minotaur, to Jason and the Golden Fleece. It was interesting that we had a look at these myths and legends from the eye of the women though. Usually in these tales, we only see them from the man’s perspective. Not so in ‘Circe’. Yes, the book is obviously about the main character, but we met the women of the myths. Pasiphae, Queen of Crete. Medea, her niece. Ariadne. It was actually quite interesting to see the female perspective of these tales, even if they were either naive or malicious. 

There are bits of the story that perhaps some might find dull, but actually it was quite nice to witness the day by day actions of Circe, the fact that she is on an island – most of the time alone, unless there are male visitors or the arrival of nymphs, and later the looking after her son. I thought it was quite funny that the ‘wayward’ daughters of gods were sent to Circe’s island, as if shoving them all together in the same ‘pot’ could solve the problem. In fact, that the gods thought they were a problem irked me a bit. There’s a deep sense of feministic power to this book. Even banished and trapped on an island, Circe was wily and resolute in her actions. She is a powerful character and the things she does to exert that power, to rise up against the malevolent and fierce power of the other gods and goddesses is admirable. She will do anything for the ones she loves and cares for, from changing the very nature of things to breaking the rules.

The story flows nicely, but overall it passed fairly steadily. There were no cliffhangers as such. This is no general fantasy novel, but a piece of intricate literature. It introduces well-known characters and other Greek myths along its constant pace. There were shocking moments, fascinating tidbits of legends I’d only known glimpses of. It was a refreshing take on so many tales from that time period, and has perhaps inspired me to read more on the subject.

Overall, I really enjoyed the book. I’d recommend it to anyone who hasn’t read it yet as a fascinating and thrilling tale of the sorceress of Aiaia, the goddess Circe and her life.

I give it 5 out of 5 stars.

Check it out on Goodreads

Purchase it at Waterstones

Buy it Secondhand at World of Books

Kate @ Kandid Chronicles x


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