Circe by Madeline Miller Review

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.

I’ve loved Greek mythology since I was a child. It’s one of those things that I get weirdly excited about any time I talk about it and I can’t get enough, so Circe appealed to me right away. I’m so glad I read this book. It’s so unbelievably fantastic and enchanting.

Circe is a Greek goddess I knew very little about before reading this book. I had vague memories of reading about her being the Witch of Aiaia, but that’s it. This book explores Circe as a powerful witch and goddess in her own right. The book is said to be a retelling of the classic Greek myth, but it feels like we’re finally seeing Circe as her own person, not just another character in someone else’s epic tale of bravery. It’s the story that Circe deserves. She is powerful, smart, resilient, brave, and the epitome of a fierce, independent woman. I’m so obsessed. She is one of my favorite characters that I’ve read about this year and possibly ever. We meet her as a child, ignored and disliked in her father, Helio’s, court. She kept quiet and kept to herself. We watch as she discovers her powers and earns her exile. She grows into herself, transforming wholly not only into a witch but into someone completely capable who accepts and loves herself and understands her own worth. She lives in some semblance of peace on her island, finding herself and developing her witchery over centuries. 

I absolutely loved the writing. Reading this book felt like being told a tale and getting completely wrapped up by every sentence. Descriptions were beautiful, detailed and lush, but my favorite part of the writing were expressions of Circe’s thoughts. Simple sentences that held so much and meant so much are constant throughout this book. The way it’s told, first person as though Circe today is telling you about her past, only adds to the enchantment. While the book spans thousands of years, it never feels slow. We pass through years with Circe as they must feel to her—quickly and with simple descriptions summarizing how she spent the time we’re not in the moment with her. When we are in the moment with her, it’s easy to get lost in the imagery Miller paints of Aiaia and Circe’s simple life as well as her complex relationships and emotions. 

This is a character driven book with the focus on her personal development over the course of her exile. I didn’t know enough of Circe’s story to know where this book was going, so I was surprised a lot by how it unfolded and the amount of time we spent with her. Circe is a fantastically written character. She was more humanized than I was expecting but it made it easy to warm up to her and root for her from the start. She had an interest in mortals beyond manipulating them and using them for her own amusement that other gods didn’t understand, and while mortals brought her happiness, they often were the cause of her challenges. She has centuries of solitude only broken by occasional visits from gods or men looking to take advantage of a woman all alone on an island (my god, did I want to help her turn them to pigs!) Those centuries were filled with small, personal triumphs as well as larger ones against the gods themselves and no shortage of grief and guilt that weighed on Circe’s mind. She knew she lived at the gods’ whims and under their gazes, but she also knew she answered to no one but herself. Her island was her own and she was her own. She just got better and better throughout the book, learning and growing from the occasional visitor to her island, whether for better or worse. She was creative and used the gods’ underestimating her to her advantage. She handled everything with such strong grace. We see other Greek heroes and gods flit in and out of her life, crossed the ocean to her sister Pasiphaë’s land to see the birth of the Minotaur and watched her navigate a challenge she never expected in the form of her child. There was nothing slow or boring about this story. It was all captivating and told with such heart.

I’m obsessed with this book. It’s absolutely one of the best books I’ve read this year and is one of my new favorite standalone books. Circe is amazing and is now one of my favorite characters. When I finally get around to reading The Odyssey, I’m sure I’ll be enraged at the depiction of Circe. This is the Circe I like, not a powerful witch who’d bow to a mortal man. This book is a retelling of Circe’s story that I think will please all fans of Greek mythology, but I recommend it to everyone. 

Some of my favorite quotes: 

“You threw me to the crows, but it turns out I prefer them to you.” 

“My sister might be twice the goddess I was, but I was twice the witch.” (YES!)

“As it turned out, I did kill pigs that night after all.” (Read the book just so you understand this quote. It gave me chills and made me want to scream.)

Helios: “You have always been the worst of my children. Be sure you do not dishonor me.”

Circe: “I have a better idea. I will do as I please, and when you count your children, leave me out.”

“Humbling women seems to me a chief pastime of poets. As if there can be no story until we crawl and weep.” 


Thanks for reading,


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