Friday Review: Circe by Madeline Miller

CirceCirce by Madeline Miller

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I am a sucker for anything to do with mythology, any mythology. So, when my youngest sent me this book for Mother’s Day, I was very happy. In this novel, Miller takes on the tale of Circe, daughter of the Titan sun god, Helios, and the witch in the Odyssey who turned Odysseus’ men to swine. Here, Circe is drawn as an outcast- not beautiful like her mother, nor powerful like her father and his Titan family. She discovers that, like her brothers and sister, she has a talent for witchcraft, which is forbidden by the now powerful Olympian gods. When she uses her craft to turn a rival nymph into a monster, Zeus has Helios banish his daughter to the island of Aiaia. But the banishment becomes boon, as Circe uses her time alone to hone her witchcraft. When Odysseus and his men arrive on the island, Circe’s world is changed forever and events are set in motion to pit her against one of the most powerful and vengeful of the Olympian pantheon.

This book takes the tale of Circe and Odysseus and draws it out to fill in the pieces of Circe’s story. And the story is told from Circe’s point of view, unlike the Odyssey, which is purely Odysseus’ tale. Circe becomes more than just an evil witch. She is the outcast child, not beautiful or talented in the ways most of her Titan and nymph relations are. She has a mortal voice, rather than the lovely, musical ones of her sisters and aunts. She is ridiculed and teased, left out, desperate to gain her father’s attention. When she discovers her witchcraft, she finds something that she can truly call her own, even though it leads her to isolation. She grows and matures on her island, and the character becomes fully rounded and more alive than the Circe we know from Homer. This is a strong-willed, capable woman who knows herself and her desires, who can take care of herself and those she loves. She grows throughout the tale, and through her interactions with the mortals she is so fond of, becomes a more human character from it. This is not the usual Greek mythological tale, of gods who are jealous, and vengeful, and dismissive of the mortals they love to torture. Oh, all of that is in there, certainly, but in Circe, we see an immortal who has all too human sides to her character.

The writing is quiet and a bit on the formal side, which suits the tale well. It is in turn lyrical, and haunting, and striking. The story unfolds quietly as Circe grows. It is not full of non-stop action, although there is some and the pace steps up during these sequences nicely. It holds true to the Odyssey in its main telling, but expands and adds depth and breadth to the Greek mythology it pulls its inspiration from.

If you enjoy mythology, and Greek mythology in particular, Circe should make for a good read.

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Coming soon: Two’s Company, a sci-fi novel in the space opera tradition. Artificial intelligence, corporate plots, spaceships, a heroine with an attitude. More details soon!

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