This is a spoiler-free review of Circe by Madeline Miller, a standalone mythological retelling, which I gave 4/5 stars.
“I would say, some people are like constellations that only touch the earth for a season.”
Circe the daughter of the Titan Helios, the god of the sun, was always considered a strange child. Seeking companionship which the gods and titans wouldn’t offer her, Circe turned to mortals, where she discovered her powers of witchcraft. With it, she can transform lives, turning mortals into gods, and gods into monsters.
Zeus, threatened, has Helios banish her to a deserted isle where she hones her craft and crosses paths with some of the most renowned mythological figures, including the Minotaur, Daedalus and Icarus, Medea, and Odysseus.
Alone on the island, Circe draws the wrath of mortals and gods alike and will find herself pitted against the greatest Olympians. To protect what she loves, she will have to choose once and for all which world she belongs to: the mortal world she has come to love, or the gods’ to whom she was born from.
“That is one thing gods and mortals share. When we are young, we think ourselves the first to have each feeling in the world.”
This is a novel that definitely requires some background knowledge or research. Madeline Miller does provide some background on all the myths and different figures that show up but, having a basis on the Greek gods, titans, and some myths like Icarus, Medea, and Prometheus would make getting into this book much easier.
Prior to reading this, I was completely unfamiliar with Medea’s story and felt that if I had known it, I would have been able to enjoy the scenes with her more, as there were some pieces of her life I seemed to be missing to truly understand and appreciate her presence.
Writing and Pacing
“Sorcery cannot be taught. You find it yourself, or you do not.”
Overall, the pacing was fairly slow, but it worked well to fully develop all aspects of Circe’s character and life.
I have read Madeline Miller’s other novel, The Song of Achilles, and while I feel that it takes a bit to fully immerse yourself into both stories, the emotional connection I felt to characters from her first novel was stronger and was developed sooner.
“When I was born, the word for what I was did not exist.”
Circe’s character development was one of my favorite parts of the book. She learns to stand up for herself and throughout the novel slowly begins to understand her worth and how she deserves to be treated. For her whole childhood, she was mocked by almost everyone she encountered, but she grows to become more confident and tough.
(If you’re into Taylor Swift’s new album Folklore, Circe definitely evolves to embody the song Mad Woman, which I loved).
As for the other characters, I didn’t care too much for many of them as Circe herself didn’t seem to have a strong emotional attachment with them, so it was hard for me to have one.
“How many of us would be granted pardon if our true hearts were known?”
I knew little about Circe’s overall story before reading this, except the part where she turned men into pigs and met Odysseus, but Miller did compose a great and thorough narrative of her life, which has made me want to pick up more works about her.
All in all, I enjoyed this novel, but I think I would have liked it more if the beginning of the book was paced a little faster to truly draw you in.