Author: Madeline Miller
Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing UK
Release Date: April 19th 2018
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.
– Blurb courtesy of goodreads.com
My Thoughts On…
When Circe is born she’s a disappointment; not beautiful enough to marry a son of Zeus according to her father’s prophecy, and not powerful enough to be anything more than the daughter of a nymph. She spends most of her life sitting at her Helios’s knees, watching her brothers and sister grow up and leave their father’s halls to make their own marks on the world, surrounded by nymphs who care for nothing more than their petty squabbles. It’s only when Circe falls in love with a mortal that she discovers the gift she has, a gift which terrifies Zeus and sees Circe exiled to Aiaia.
Circe isn’t a fast-paced story, a lot of the plot revolves around Circe’s individual character development and it takes her generations to finally uncover her power and move beyond her father’s halls. This book is told in a mixture of first person and omnipresent POV, like Circe herself is looking back and telling us her story, seeing the mistakes she made early on when she was driven by love to turn a mortal into a god and driven by jealously to turn a nymph into a fearsome monster.
On Aiaia Circe tests the limits of her witchcraft, and though she is exiled she isn’t always alone. Over the hundreds of years she resides there her path crosses with the messenger God Hermes, Daedalus and Icarus as she plays a hand in the birth of the Minotaur, and Jason and Medea with the Golden Fleece in their possession. It’s only when Circe meets Odysseus on his long voyage home from the Trojan war that her path changes, and she finds herself with a choice to make.
Circe is a figure who appears in a lot of Greek myths, playing a role in so many key events, but this was her telling her own story from start to finish. Taking us from her birth all the way to end; through her years under Helios and Perse, disregarded by her family and the other nymphs, to her exile on Aiaia and her journey to harness her magic.
Circe is very subdued in the beginning of this book, beaten down by everything she’s heard whispered behind her back and by the disregard her parents show her. Circe is not beautiful like her mother and not powerful like her father so she’s of no interest to them, and without anyone to love or pay attention to her she’s lonely. When her brother is born he becomes everything to Circe , but Aeëtes has bigger dreams and before long he leaves Circe alone and lonely again.
It’s Circe’s development throughout this book that really makes the story. Her exile to Aiaia doesn’t break her, instead she sees the island and it’s solitude as an opportunity to hone her gifts. The more time she spends practising, experimenting with different herbs and potions, the more she learns about her gift, and the more she learns the more powerful she becomes.
Despite her banishment Circe is still somewhat tethered by her family, her father especially. The island of Aiaia where she is exiled is the scene of Helios’s great battle with Zeus, and although she is trapped there Circe is still aware of how far her father’s reach extends over Aiaia and over herself. However it’s the thought of that reach that offers her the illusion of protection, because no one would dare hurt the daughter of Helios when he is aware of all that happens on Aiaia.
Circe is not like the other Gods and not like her family either; her father is cold, and her brothers and sister are selfish, cruel and brutal. While Circe isn’t perfect, she does some terrible things because of the hurt she feels or the wrongs committed against her, she has a good heart. She still has those darker emotions brewing beneath the surface, and when she strikes out with her witchcraft there are dire consequences, but she’s trying to do the best for the people she loves even if it leaves her worse off.
Although Circe was a largely character driven story the world building didn’t suffer. One thing Madeline Miller did really well was developing the Greek myths that influenced this book and which Circe played a role in shaping. Throughout this book we meet a lot of legends and heroes, and although this was Circe’s story rather than Daedalus’s or Odysseus’s there was still a weight to their parts in her life fitting in with their own journeys. The majority of this book is set on the island of Aiaia, which I thought the it was incredibly well developed without feeling too small for the tone of the story and Circe’s character growth, but the world building wasn’t just restricted to that one area. We see a lot of Helios’s home in the years before Circe is exiled, and we hear tales of other lands and battles from the people who pass by Circe’s island.
When it comes to Greek mythology I think Madeline Miller is the best author I’ve read so far. She takes the original tales, keeping the soul of the story but reimagining it into something new, something emotional and sometimes bittersweet but beautiful at the same time. Circe was an incredible read, I didn’t know much about Circe going into this book but after I’d finished I wanted to know more.
What did you think of Circe? Was it a favourite of yours or could you just not get into the story? Let me know.