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.
Author: Madeline Miller
“Humbling women seems to me a chief pastime of poets. As if there can be no story unless we crawl and weep.”
Circe was excellent. Miller’s use of language is masterful, the story is unique and attention-grabbing, and the combination of the two is powerful.
The book is written in Circe’s first person. Rather than simply starting at the beginning and moving through, her narration feels more like you’re sitting beside her near a fireplace while she tells you the story of her life. Interjections along the lines of “if only I had known then what I know now” make this clear and keep you engaged, always looking out toward the end and wondering how you’ll get there.
She starts the story at her birth and details a terrible childhood in the halls of her Titan father, Helios. The picture she paints of these gods is one of coldness, selfishness, arrogance, and abuse. It takes her a while to figure out that she does not need to stand for this treatment, although small events show that the strength and confidence she needs do exist inside her.
“I will not be like a bird bred in a cage, I thought, too dull to fly even when the door stands open.”
Eventually one of these small moments earns her exile to the beautiful island of Aiaia, where she begins to grow into herself and learn how the world can be both lovely and cruel. Interactions with both gods and mortals—including characters like Hermes, Minos, Dedalus, Jason and Medea, and Odysseus, for example—shape her, destroy her, build her back up, and more. The longer she lives, the more she comes to love the mortals she meets and the world they live in.
We are taken through so many phases of her life, from childhood to confidence to loneliness to abuse-driven cruelty to quiet acceptance to strength. The integration of so many characters and stories from Greek mythology make the book even more interesting, as we are almost getting the “true story” behind these myths—the good, the bad, and the really ugly. Throughout, her portrayal of the women is the best part. We get a side of the story that shows them as strong, fierce beings—some good and some bad, but always round and complex—rather than the edited version all the male poets have “chosen” to portray.
“It is a common saying that women are delicate creatures, flowers, eggs, anything that may be crushed in a moment’s carelessness. If I had ever believed it, I no longer did.”
This book was so well-done. Because it was written in the first-person of Circe, the phrasing is god-like but also relatable, which makes it sort of hypnotizing and really enjoyable to read. I loved it.