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)

Review

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!

Rating

Advertisement

Book Review: The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller

Quick Review (read on for full review)

A beautifully written retelling with a seamless blending of myth and historical detail.  Modern literature at its best. 5 / 5

Summary (from Goodreads)

Greece in the age of heroes. Patroclus, an awkward young prince, has been exiled to the court of King Peleus and his perfect son Achilles. Despite their differences, Achilles befriends the shamed prince, and as they grow into young men skilled in the arts of war and medicine, their bond blossoms into something deeper – despite the displeasure of Achilles’s mother Thetis, a cruel sea goddess. But when word comes that Helen of Sparta has been kidnapped, Achilles must go to war in distant Troy and fulfill his destiny. Torn between love and fear for his friend, Patroclus goes with him, little knowing that the years that follow will test everything they hold dear.

Favourite Quote

This book is beautifully lyrical in it’s storytelling so picking one quote alone was extraordinarily difficult…I managed to narrow it down to two…

I could recognise him by touch alone, by smell; I would know him blind, by the way his breaths came and his feet strike the earth.  I would know him in death, at the end of the world.

(The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller, pg 126)

*

Chiron had said once that nations were the most foolish of mortal inventions. ‘No man is worth more than another, wherever he is from.’

(The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller, pg 283)

Review

Where to begin? Let me start with this: I loved this book.  It is beautifully written, woven with emotion and poignancy.  In The Song of Achilles, we are taken on a journey to a time when gods and goddess and heroes still walked the earth, where a seamless blending of myth and history conjure a narrative so captivating and compelling that the book is impossible to put down.

The story can be divided into two: before the Trojan war and during it.  What struck me, was how in keeping with Homer’s Illiad this retelling was, and I appreciated that.

Having a life-long interest in Ancient Greece and Greek mythology, I am well acquainted with the story of The Trojan War.  And, my sympathies have always fallen on the side of the Trojans.  So, as I picked up this book, I did wonder if I would connect to a story that centred on Achilles.  My opinion of him – until I read this book – could probably be summed up in two words: “arrogant” and “blood-thirsty”.  I did not like him.  Of course, he is those things, but he is so much more complicated a character than that, one that evolves and transforms over time as the path of his destiny becomes clear.  Madeline Miller cleverly portrays this.  

All the characters were well-drawn: the cunning Odysseus; the proud, single-minded Agamemnon; the fearless Diomedes, the old, frail King Peleus.  The depiction of Thetis was terrifying; she was as cold and as dangerous as the sea that was her home.

The story can only be described as powerfully emotional and in places, it is devastating; it reduced me to tears on more than one occasion. Patroclus was the perfect narrator for Achilles’ story.  He brought balance, understanding and mortality to the tale of a half-divine killing machine.  Whereas Achilles is the perfect prince and Aristos Achaion, Best of the Greeks, Patroclus is imperfect, awkward and useless at fighting at a time when it is valued so highly.

As for the setting, the culture and landscape are brought vividly to life.  There is such a richness to the lyrical prose, it is easy to imagine the locations we visit: the palace at Phthia, Mount Pelion, Scyros, Aulis, the beach at Troy…but more than that, you can imagine being there.

Does this book transform my opinion of Achilles from villain to hero?  No, though he is perhaps less of a villain than I would have once stated.  But Patroclus…he is most certainly the hero of this retelling.

The Song of Achilles is modern literature at its best.  Highly recommended.  If you’ve yet to venture into Ancient Greek mythology or mythological retellings, this would be a good place to start.

Rating


Sammi Loves Books Reading Challenge 2019 – I’ve chosen this book for challenge #9 in the list: A book you’ve not read but one you really should have by now

Oathbreaker

If you have a moment, please have a read of my latest novel.  It’s currently available to read for free via Wattpad…Click the book cover below for the link…Thank you so much for your support ♥

~ Oathbreaker is now available to read in full on Wattpad ~

Longlisted for The Wattys 2018

Summary

Eleri, priestess of the Green Lady, has waited for so long to marry her tribe’s champion, Celyn. Finally, the date is set for Midsummer’s Eve, when the tribes have gathered in the valley to celebrate the longest day at the stone circle perched up on the hill. But nothing is as it seems…

A glimpse of a bird circling over the stones foretells of doom…and maybe even death.

An oath is made. An oath is broken. And Eleri’s life changes forever…

*
Oathbreaker is a story inspired by ancient history, mythology, and the landscape. Set in the Iron Age, where there is no distinction between history and mythology, and where magic is as real as the ground beneath your feet, Oathbreaker charts the journey of Eleri, Priestess of the Green Lady, and the unusual quest she finds herself forced to make…

If you enjoy historical fiction, myths and legends, fantasy, adventure and romance, you might enjoy this too…