Circe by Madeline Miller
Published: April 19, 2018 by Bloomsbury UK
Genre: Retelling, mythology
Rating: 4.5/5 stars
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.
This review is so late. Honestly, all of my reviews are lately. I haven’t written much lately, but I’m trying to remedy that by reviewing the books I’ve read in the past few months. One of those books is Circe by Madeline Miller.
I had been looking forward to another Madeline Miller book since I read The Song of Achilles years ago. To this day it is one of my favorite books. When I heard that she’d release a book centered around Circe, I was ecstatic. And I wasn’t let down.
This is the story of Circe’s life. We follow her from a very young age through the centuries (seeing as she’s immortal). She’s the daughter of a Titan and a nymph and spent the first years of her life in Helios’ palace.
I love how Madeline Miller turned Circe from an immortal, “evil” witch into an immortal and complex person. In the novels I’ve read, Circe is always portrayed as the evil witch who hates men. While for a certain part of her story that is certainly true, it’s not all she is and Miller managed to portray that beautifully. We get to know Circe as a person through her life experiences. Similar to what she did with Achilles, Madeline Miller made me fall in love with a person who had always been portrayed as one-dimensional by showing me her complex and emotional story.
What struck me most during this novel is that Circe has never really known love. As a child she was bullied for not looking like the other nymphs and not having a godly voice. Instead, she has the voice of a mortal. In later relationships, she is always treated wonderfully until the person has gotten what they wanted. After that, she becomes disposable. This leads to her doing something terrible to another nymph, for which her father exiles her.
I love how this book wasn’t afraid to address the horrible aspects of being a woman in Ancient times (or now, for that matter). When she first gets exiled to the island, Circe realizes that she has no way of defending herself.
If anyone came, I would only be able to scream, and a thousand nymphs before me knew what good that did.
So she decides to teach herself witchcraft, even though she has no idea how to do that.
I will not be like a bird bred in a cage, I thought, too dull to fly even when the door stands open.
Circe goes through so much in this novel, which of course leads her to grow as a person. From a shy and quiet girl who was always afraid someone would notice her to an independent and capable woman who has made her exile into her home. What I found most interesting was the difference in her demeanor depending on the person in front of her. For example, when it came to mortal men (or women really) she had no trouble punishing them when they wronged her (or tried to wrong her). She was confident and unafraid. Yet when it comes to her family, she was still that scared little girl she used to be.
‘It is funny,’ she said, ‘that even after all this time, you still believe you will be rewarded, just because you have been obedient. I thought you would have learned that lesson in our father’s halls. None shrank and simpered as you did, and yet great Helios stepped on you all the faster, because you were already crouched at his feet.’
I also really enjoyed seeing Circe as a mother. Madeline Miller didn’t portray being a mother as something that only has positive and good aspects. She called Circe’s son out when he was a spoiled brat, yet showed that a mother’s love still comes above all. Circe would’ve done anything for her son, no matter what. Even though he was terrible to her at times. It showed the good and the bad of a mother-son relationship which I love.
I also liked seeing Circe’s part in other stories: Odysseus’s tale, the Minotaur, Jason and Medea… All the familiar faces. Especially Odysseus’s part in this story was intriguing because he wasn’t only portrayed as the brilliant strategist. He was also manipulative, cold and cruel at times.
I think it’s obvious that I really enjoyed this book. Madeline Miller hasn’t disappointed me yet, and I hope that she will write another novel at some point. I will certainly be there to read it. The only “downside” of this book was that it was a tad slow at times.
I would highly recommend this book (clearly) whether you are familiar with Circe’s tale or not. I think there’ll be plenty to enjoy regardless of your knowledge on her. This is a wonderful tale that manages to turn a character who is often portrayed in a one-dimensional way into a complex and real person.