I always enjoyed the Odyssey, but it was never a favorite tale of mine. Circe, for those who might not be familiar with the story, was a minor character who’s notorious moment of fame was when she turned Odyssey’s men into pigs. Yes, that actually happened—and yes, she made me enjoy the tale considerably more than had she never been written into it.
With that out of the way, I should begin this review by saying that while I have a decent knowledge of Greek mythology, this story would have been a bit of a struggle to understand had I not known specific myths. For many people, I feel that Circe is going to be one of those books that you’ll need to do some background research to truly understand what is happening. Miller provides enough resources that one can just surmise what is going on without having to recall some middle school lecture about the Odyssey, but there are still going to be holes left unfilled. Even for me, it was a bit confusing at times.
But don’t let this discourage you!
I was already a fan of Miller because of her other novel, The Song of Achilles, so Circe had some big shoes to fill. I’ll just say right now that I didn’t love this story as much as the other novel. For me, it didn’t have the same fast-paced and adventurous ambiance of TSoA, nor did it have the same emotional pull. Circe is a slower read. The romance is essentially nonexistent, which I liked, but the emotional angst wasn’t delivered to the extent that I thought it would be. What I mean to say is; I didn’t really care much for most of these characters. Not like I did with TSoA. However, they are both completely different tales, so its hard to base one book off of the other.
That being said, heres a rundown on the plot.
Circe is the firstborn daughter of Helios, god of the sun. Her father is a mighty Titan, and her mother a vicious water nymph. Growing up, Circe was an outcast because she appeared more mortal than immortal, and neither of her parents were pleased with her existence but they put up with her regardless. Years later, her mother gave birth to twins—Pasiphaë and Perses. They treated their elder sister with as much contempt as their parents. Circe, being used to the torment, went along with it for centuries. Later, another brother was born into the family named Aeëtes. Circe felt an overwhelming sense of adoration for her little brother and became immensely protective of him. He, in turn, became the only one who spoke to her as an equal.
Circe continued with life, walking in the shadows of her predecessors, until one fateful evening where Prometheus was held on trial for gifting mankind the creation of fire. The Titans unleashed their wrath upon him, and Circe, not knowing what else to do, waited until everyone left to come forth and speak with the cursed god. He told her of his love for mortals, and how their kind treats one another different than how the gods treat themselves. Thus, Circe starts to seek comfort with mortals.
A young sailor by the name of Glaucos enraptures her, and they soon fall in love. Circe finally discovers her powers and is able to transform her lover into a serpentine immortal, to which causes him great fame because everyone believes he was favored by the gods—not that she had been powerful enough to perform the impossible. But when Glaucos starts to fall for another, Circe goes before her father and claims that she was the one who transformed him. Of course, no one believes her. In her frustration, she transforms Glaucos’ new lover into a monster, and is banished to an isolated island to live out her days alone as punishment.
It is on this island that mortals came from the sea in hopes to find shelter. And Circe, having grown desperate, entertains each crew of men that arrive on her island until their true intentions cause her to take matters into her own hands. After attempting to rape her, Circe transforms the men into pigs. She repeats this for each ship that seeks refuge until Odysseus makes an appearances and pleads for her to change them back.
From there, Circe begins to understand life and its often cruel meanings.
I think what I enjoyed the most in this book was the character development. Circe goes from being a small girl who never stood up for herself to an angry woman who transformed people into creatures until she finally blossoms into a wise witch who’s whit and knowledge of mortal and immortal behaviors causes her to become a compelling force.
She is the type of character that you’ll find yourself rooting for. An underdog of sorts. And while she might not ever be the most powerful character in the tale, her presence is one to be noticed and that is why I ended up liking her so much. She doesn’t need blades or even her spells, she just has to rely on her patience and cunning. (There are a few moment between her and Athena that will really demonstrate this.)
Plot aside, Miller has such a beautiful writing structure that she could have given me a story about the adventures of a worm and it wouldn’t have been so awful. Its lyrical and flows smoothly—two things I love in a book. The pace might be a bit dragging at times, but it eventually picks up when you least expect it. Overall, you’ll be happy you kept going.
So if you’re looking for a romantic book, or one about bloodshed and battles, this probably isn’t for you. But if you’re interested in a story with amazing character development that explores the many strengths of a women who has been tested by literally everything she’s ever had to deal with…congrats. Heres your next read.
My rating: 4/5