Author: Madeline Miller
Length: 12 hours
Narrator: Perdita Weeks
Original Publication Date: 2018
Genre(s): Historical fiction, Greek mythology
Circe was born of the great god Helios, but she was easily the least favorite compared to her siblings. Ostracized by her family, she turned to the mortal world in curiosity, leading her on a path to discover a powerful, forbidden sorcery: witchcraft. In the name of love, she used her newfound knowledge to cast a spell or two, which in turn invoked the wrath of Zeus. The god exiled Circe to an island for eternity where she learned to hone her craft and hosted many, many travelers. Each of her visitors told her stories from around the world of people and places, of monsters and wars. As centuries passed and eternity stretched on, Circe began to wonder if there was a way around her exile—and even her divinity itself.
Last month, I read Miller’s The Song of Achilles and bawled my eyes out. Not only was it about star-crossed lovers (gotta love tragedy), but the entire story, from the first page to the last, had me captivated. Circe hooked me in the exact same way, though it focused less on a love story and more on rejection, isolation, motherhood, and womanhood (though as a goddess, I guess Circe wasn’t really a human woman, but still). Circe is told in first-person POV and spans centuries, as Circe is a goddess and therefore immortal. If you’re familiar with Greek myths, many of the characters and creatures that pop up throughout the novel will not be new to you—and neither will their fates.
Whether you know much about Greek myths or not, if you read The Song of Achilles, you will at least be familiar with one character that appears midway though Circe, and that is Odysseus. I was waiting for him to show up for so long while I was reading—I was so excited to see this recurring character that I loved reading about in TSOA. I didn’t realize how minor of a part he played in the overall story, nor did I realize I had forgotten much of Odysseus’s character from The Odyssey and the other actual myths. He’s kind of an asshole… Regardless, even if you know nothing of the myths or TSOA at all, I still think you’ll enjoy this novel. It’s full of magic, adventure, love, heartbreak, and fascinating characters and creatures. And who knows, maybe it’ll convince you to read TSOA or the Greek myths—I have to assume that is Miller’s hope.
What makes this novel so captivating is the writing. Madeline Miller is an excellent storyteller. Her skillful writing combined with her extensive knowledge of Greek myths makes for excellent literature that I want to read again and again. As an adult reading these myth retellings, I am overcome with wonder, fulfillment, and an intense interest in mythology that I haven’t felt since I was in middle/high school reading Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson and the Olympians series. Seriously, if you were one of those kids who owned a Camp Half-Blood t-shirt and would tell people who your godly parent was, Miller’s books were written for your adult selves. Trust me.
I loved reading Circe as much as I loved reading TSOA, just in different ways. I have a newfound love and respect for Circe that I never thought I’d have. I remember reading The Odyssey in middle school and thinking, What is this lady’s problem? Why is she turning men into pigs? Odysseus is so cool and brave! It was refreshing to see more of this character that I knew so little about, getting to know so many sides of her complexity. I highly recommend this novel to lovers of Greek myths, Percy Jackson fans, anyone who is obsessed with The Song of Achilles, and of course lovers of fantastical fiction in general.