by Madeline Miller
Published April 10th 2018
Publisher: Little, Brown and Company
Page count: 400 pages
Goodreads: See here
*featured image found on my instagram @bookbastion
Mythology / Fantasy / Retelling
Plot at a Glance:
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.
Madeline Miller really channeled her inner Goddess for this, because this book was a dazzling work of magic.
I was utterly charmed by The Song of Achilles when I read it last year, so when Little, Brown and Company sent me an ARC of this book I was jumping for joy. It’s no secret that I’m a fan of Greek mythology, so I know that factors into my enjoyment of these novels, but the true credit has to be paid to Madeline Miller’s skill as a writer, her natural abilities as a storyteller, and the respect she pays to the source material she works with.
Circe is a beautiful re-framing of those original classic stories within a feminist narrative of a woman claiming agency within two worlds that cannot possibly appreciate her place in them. It’s a great play on the Greek mythology, which often portrayed women as lesser players to the men around them, and even more frequently cast them as manipulators; deceivers that caused the downfall of men.Miller takes the character of Circe and drags her out of the shadows of the patriarchy that surrounds her and places her squarely in the spotlight, offering a lesser considered perspective of the notorious witch of Aiaia.
Watching Circe carve out her agency as a woman in two worlds – those of Gods and mortals – is extremely empowering to witness. The outcast child of Godblood and a source of infamy to mortal men, Circe spends the story bathed in the knowledge that she is anathema to both societies that she walks within. She has been slighted: the victim of inequities and unfair judgement and persecution of her character. Her narrative is unflinching and open, honest in its portrayal of a woman seeking the power to ensure her place in this world of Gods and monsters never opens her up to harm again.
It would be easy given the subject matter at times for this story to slip into total despair. It is Miller’s dedication to Circe’s strengths that buoys her character and by association, the story itself up. Circe works to establish a safe position of power within her world as much as she does lament the unfairness of her situation. She is strong as stone and it is her belief in herself, to protect herself and that which she values from compromise that makes this such a compelling read. Circe is one of my favorite heroines I’ve ever read in my entire career as a blogger.
The mythology is on point here. There are familiar characters from Song of Achilles – though you do not need to read that book to understand their place in this novel – along with a whole host of new characters that are sure to please any fans of Greek mythology with even a cursory knowledge of the old stories. Miller uses the entire pantheon of Gods and fantastic creatures to her advantage, crafting a story that is vivid and rich.
The prose itself is another highlight here. Blessed by immortality, this is a story that spans centuries. Hundreds of generations are born and fall away like dust in a spear of light around Circe, and she moves through the years as one passes through a threshold from the safety of house and home to the greater world outside the door. Miller’s prose is dreamlike and shifts forward in leaps and bounds that never disorient, but rather highlights the lack of permanence that surrounds Circe, and further lends to her narrative of a woman uniquely placed to watch the workings of the world.
I’ve been blogging for over a year now, and I can safely say that not only was this the best book I’ve read so far thus year, this was one of the best books I’ve read in my entire career as a blogger. This is a new favorite for me, and will always hold a special place in my heart, and on my shelf, for years to come.
🌟🌟🌟🌟🌟= 5/5 stars! A new favorite for me!
Thank you to Little, Brown and company for an advanced copy of this book!
What did you think of this? Have you read any other great retellings? Let me know so I can check them out!