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.
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…