Book Review: Circe by Madeline Miller

Quick Review (read on for full review)

Beautifully written, every sentence is infused with magic and enchantment. Highly recommended! 5 / 5

Summary (from Goodreads)

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.

Favourite Quote

We are sorry, we are sorry.

Sorry you were caught, I said. Sorry that you thought I was weak, but you were wrong.

(From Circe by Madeline Miller, page 171)


I read Song of Achilles and was blown away by Madeline Miller’s writing.  So I knew I was going to enjoy this book, and I did.  But do I think it’s better than Song of Achilles?  That’s a tough question.  What I can say is that I came at these two books with quite a different mindset.  I didn’t like Achilles as I started SoA but that book transformed how I thought of him (I wouldn’t go as far as saying rehabilitated him in my mind, but he certainly became a little more sympathetic).  Conversely, with an interest (read: obsession) in paganism, witchcraft, ancient history and mythology, Circe had always been one of those figures I felt drawn to.  So in this instance, the question is: was the Circe of the book the same as the Circe I had imagined myself.  And the answer to that would be no?  Did I like the book any less because of it?  Certainly not!

This book is a masterpiece.  Beautifully written, every sentence is infused with magic and enchantment.  It is a tale of transformation, and a tale of power.  It is also a tale of loneliness and isolation (quite a fitting read during lockdown, don’t you think…)  It is a tale of love and loss, a tale of motherhood, a tale of witchcraft.  It is worth pointing out that the book is a retelling of Circe’s story as it is found in mythology, rather than an reimagining.

The island of Aiaia was evocatively brought to life with rich and vivid descriptions of the landscape and the fauna and flora.  It was certainly my favourite location of the book, though I enjoyed the trip to the palace of Knossos on Crete.

If you know the story of Circe, you will not be surprised by the cast of characters we meet as her tale unfolds.  Even though she is only a nymph, considered to be the lowliest of immortals, her life spans generations. Mortals, immortals and monsters…she encounters them all. But it is Circe herself who unremittingly captures the attention.  As a character, she is not perfect, far from it.  She can be benevolent, loving and kind, not to mention is resilient and shows us how to be self-reliant and independent.  Yet she can also be cruel and harsh and is responsible for terrible things, but she also is forced to endure terrible things too.  For a divine being, she is unquestionably human.

As I mentioned, this is a story of transformation where Circe becomes so much more than anyone expected and it terrifies those around her.  It is this, most of all, that I will take away from the book.  Our power, our witchcraft, is our own and with it we can find the strength and determination to achieve more than anyone else, or even ourselves, believe possible.  It won’t be easy.  As Circe says, witchcraft is drudgery, it’s dirty work, and it won’t always succeed at the first attempt, but that doesn’t mean it won’t ever work…

Highly recommended!


15 thoughts on “Book Review: Circe by Madeline Miller

  1. Pingback: Bookish Reflections – May 2020 | Sammi Loves Books

  2. Hello Sammi – my to-read pile has dwindled sadly during lock down. I’m pestering family to lend me their treasures! I have six books on my kindle and that’s fine, but I love a real book too and usually have at least ten lined up and waiting . . .
    About the review – I really enjoyed it, having just finished “Mythos” a retelling of the Greek Myths, by Stephen Fry. This book sounds like one I’d like to read and I’ll look for it when the book shops reopen.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m the same. I will happily read ebooks but nothing beats the real thing! 🙂
      I’ve not yet read “Mythos” but it sounds fantastic and I’ve added it to my ever growing list of books to read…


  3. I have had this book on my wish list for so long, and your review only makes me want it more! Sounds like such an interesting retelling, great character, magical writing. Looking forward to it. But I’m not allowing myself to buy any more print books until I can read print books again. I literally don’t have the space left on my two to-read shelves to put one more book!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I too had it on my to buy list, and then my to read list for a good long while before I finally got around to reading it. It was like I was saving it for the perfect time to read it, not entirely sure why…but I’m so pleased I got around to it.
      I like that you have shelves dedicated to “to-read” books – it sounds useful to have them set apart from other books 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      • Now I’m deadly curious: if you don;’t have your to-read books in a particular place, where are they? And how do you remember which ones you haven’t read yet when it’s time to choose one to read?

        Liked by 1 person

      • Rather unhelpfully, the majority of the books I’ve yet to read are mixed up with the books I’ve already read…Yes, it makes things a little chaotic, but it comes down to a question of space. I will put new books anywhere they will fit…That being said, luckily I seem to remember the books I’ve read before and which ones are waiting.

        Liked by 1 person

      • I envy you your memory! Too often, I’ll pick up a book in my (supposedly) already-read stacks, only to realize I don’t remember reading it after all. Having all of my to-read books in one place also really helps me when it’s time to pick out the next book to read. If I had to peruse all of my shelves, I would use up all my reading time that night just picking out the book! I’m not sure what you mean about the question of space, either. I don’t have any *more* shelves. I just use one particular set of shelves for putting all my new books on. If they were mixed in, it’s still the same number of books in the same amount of space. Although to be honest, my to-read shelves *are* much more crowded — piled to the top and then a whole layer in front, too. That’s a great motivator though – if I literally don’t have one more slot to squeeze another new book in those shelves, it’s easier to put off buying a new book and just read one I already own. 😉

        Liked by 1 person

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