Author: Madeline Miller
Publisher: Hatchette Book Group, Inc.
Imprint: Little, Brown and Company
Release Date: April 10, 2018
Series Details: Standalone
Genre: Fantasy, Retelling
Blurb 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.
Admittedly, Greek mythology wasn’t exactly my cup of tea. And that may have contributed to my less-than-four rating. But, I think, if you’re into mythology you’d be in for a treat.
When I was born, the name for what I was did not exist.
The heaviest pulling factor of this book, for me, is the fact that this is a story about Circe—a lesser god on the unpopular side who hasn’t been given this much attention before. I gather that she appears in Homer’s Odyssey and a couple more books but I haven’t read those yet (I know. I can almost hear Septa Unella chanting “Shame! Shame! Shame!” behind me). This is the first book (that I know of) about a god named Circe which makes this more interesting.
My knowledge about Greek gods, demigods, and deities, isn’t vast but I remember loving a collection of short stories from Greek mythology back in high school—Daedalus and Icarus, the golden fleece, the Minotaur. That, and the unignorable hype around Circe has convinced me to give this a go. Unfortunately, I didn’t enjoyed this all the way through. I like the first part. I was even eager to give it a higher rating but my interest died down the moment Circe was exiled.
Despite being a god, Circe is a very relatable character. She wasn’t as powerful as the other gods. As a child, she was weak, neglected, and often underestimated. Circe goes through a lot of emotional experiences throughout the book—love, pain, betrayals, terrible treatment from her own kind—that made her stronger and lead her to become the powerful witch that she is. She is pure-hearted, courageous, and more compassionate compared to the rest of the gods. And despite all the wrongs done to her, despite growing more and more powerful each day, she did not lose those qualities.
All this while, I have been a weaver without wool, a ship without the sea. Yet now look where I sail.
Circe’s experiences may have given hooks to this book but I was quite bored with the pacing. Our heroine is exiled, stuck on an island, unable to leave and completely cut-off from the rest of the world. We are all stuck there with her while all the interesting stuff is happening outside the island. We don’t get to be a part of these interesting stuff. We are only told about it by some bored wandering god or by random sailors who lost their way. It felt like a big part of the story is put on hold while Circe is on exile, with only the secondhand stories from her visitors to push the story forward. Miller chose the interesting stories for this part—I particularly like the one with Medea and Jason running away after stealing the golden fleece—but they were made too short that each tale ended before I even begin to care about the characters involved. I’m not saying this was bad. I was just expecting to see a more hands-on Circe. Not just some witch who waits for the next ship to find her island and for the next sailors to tell her stories.
In a solitary life, there are rare moments when another soul dips near yours, as stars once a year brush the earth. Such a constellation was he to me.
To be fair, I enjoyed seeing Circe know herself and her power better while she was on the island. She was made even more relatable as she faced the emotional challenges of motherhood, the times of frustrations, and difficulties. And I love seeing her—the kind and sensitive Circe—grow some claw to protect her son. It was quite impressive how she defied a much stronger god to protect Telegonus, with a spell that she made from scratch and only from what she could find within the island. I think Miller has perfectly captured the various colors of motherhood through Circe.
I thought once that gods are the opposite of death, but I see now they are more dead than anything, for they are unchanging, and can hold nothing in their hands.
This book was a good read overall, but there were just chunks of it where I got bored. I’m not saying it’s a boring book because there were moments that really got me hooked, too. I just wished it was a little more interesting than this, more unique, maybe a little bit more moving. Also, I think, if this actually felt more like a novel than another short story collection, I would have enjoyed it more. But again, these opinions are of someone whose knowledge of Greek mythology is pretty limited. I won’t discourage anybody from reading this book. Mythology fan or not, if you’re curious about Circe and wanted to read it, then go and grab a copy.