Book Review: Circe by Madeline Miller

After The Outsider, I felt a little lost. That one book reminded me of how much I love to read, and so I went awandering and ended up in the house of Helios, god of the sun and mightiest of the Titans, at the time his wayward daughter; Circe was born.

As usual, I didn’t read any synopsis and I have never read any Madeline Miller book till now, so I had no expectations. However, I googled the book title and discovered Circe was a witch of Greek mythology. Unlike other popular Greek gods, I had never heard of Circe. I’ve been a huge fan of Greek mythology from my gaming days with Age of Empire (any gamers here?). In addition, this book had good ratings and the covering so exquisitely designed, I was sold.

Circe was a strange child, lacking any notable power, despite being a goddess. She was not street-smart, cunning or beautiful and so was ignored by her father, unwanted and despised by her nymph mother and siblings, and remained largely unknown. Circe struggled to navigate her world, understand the politics required to thrive in it and make a name for herself.

In her loneliness, she fell in love with a fisherman Glaucos and makes him a god using her herbs, with hopes that he will then be able to marry her. But he betrays her to marry a nymph, Scylla. In revenge for Scylla’s gloating and Glauco’s dismissal, using her herbs, she turns the beautiful Scylla into a six-headed monster with ten legs.

To get her father’s attention, Circe confesses these actions and is punished; sent on exile on the island of Aiaia for all eternity. However, she finds that her “prison island” sets her free. On her island, she cultivates her herbs and hones her talent for portions and spells to become the most powerful witch, feared by even the gods. She will also come in contact with some of the most respected deities and famous heroes of the time, including Odysseus, King of Ithaca, with whom she has a son.

“Most gods and mortals have lives that are tied to nothing; they tangle and wend now here, now there, according to no set plan. But then there are those who wear their destinies like nooses, whose lives run straight as planks, however they try to twist. It is these that our prophets may see.”

Released in April 2018, this book is a sequel to The Song of Achilles which I haven’t read, however, it is perfectly enjoyable by itself. It’s a small book, with about 394 pages so it took only about 2 days to read. This story is told in first person, and I enjoyed Circe’s narration of it. Madeline Miller is such a brilliant storyteller, fleshing out the character so much, it felt like Circe was alive and very relatable. This made what would have been a boring old tale a really enjoyable experience.

First, I like that Circe is a different kind of heroine, nothing as confident or powerful as we often see. She was as uncertain and fallible as she was brave in so many relatable ways, especially in managing her relationships and her personal ambitions. She was emotional and irrational as she was daring and adventurous, following her heart even when she knew that the consequences might be unpleasant. I feel like I watched her grow and find herself; from a desperate girl to a defiant resolute woman.

Next, like most women she was foolish in love, doing the dumbest things. I swear when she was about to put the flower sap in Glaucos mouth and make him a god, I was screaming “Don’t do it! Listen to your grandmother!”. I felt her desperation, hope, despair, loneliness, longing for Glaucos affection, and anger towards Scylla. It made me want to just hug her. I haven’t felt this way about a character since Arya Stark in The Song of Fire and Ice.

In my opinion, Circe was incredibly naive in dealing with men. Perhaps I am very aware of my mortality and that’s why immediately the men had eaten and drank and proceed to call her “Sweet”, I knew they were up to no good and it was time to work that magic spell. But she waited a little too long and was raped, so brace yourself. Yes, this book has some sexual content, nothing too lewd but include bestiality, will you?

However, Circe learnt fast and as you probably already know, turning those and other dangerous men into squealing pigs in her pen was the most hilarious vengeance.

I did not go easy to motherhood. I faced it as soldiers face their enemies, girded and braced, sword up against the coming blows. Yet all my preparations were not enough.

I admire her sincerity about motherhood and single parenting, especially with a difficult child. Her courage to challenge Athena, goddess of strategic warfare and determination that her son will not die is remarkable. This book is honest in its telling that you won’t always like the people you love or the things they do, but you’ll find a way to love them anyway.

This book also affirms my summation that solitude is important for personal development. It is easier to find yourself and discover what you are capable of when there of no distractions or random unsolicited opinions of who you should be or what you should do with your life.

Strength isn’t always an outward physical display, it can also be a silent inward force, a small desire to do better as a person, to give the little you have to the people who need it, to persevere in your own struggle and to right your wrongs.

In all, it’s a brilliant, action-packed story about love; self-love, maternal love and the love between friends and family. It’s about healing and personal development. Madeline provides a refreshing take on old familiar stories, weaving together so many including the story of Troy with Achilles, King Leonidas of Sparta and his wife Helen, Jason and the Argonauts and the golden fleece (I watched that as a child). I really hope someone makes a action sci-fi movie of this book, it will be epic.

If you are interested in mythology or perhaps history, you should read this book!


Have you read Circe by Madeline Miller? Let me know what you think in the comments!
As always, thank you for reading!

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