Staff Review – Circe by Madeline Miller

I have always been a fan of Greek mythology. It all stems back to Disney’s “Hercules” – my favourite Disney movie filled with Greek gods, fantastic music and Danny DeVito. Since watching this movie as a child, my fascination for Greek mythology has never waivered. I read Madeline Miller’s The Song of Achilles previously, and absolutely loved it. When I heard she had another book surrounding the Greek gods and their drama, I knew I needed to read it. While I knew a lot about parts of the plot of her first book – Achilles, the Trojan war, Helen and Paris and the general storyline for Homer’s epic poem “The Iliad”, I have never been quite as familiar with his other poem “The Odyssey”, which follows Odysseus on his journey home from the war, which takes him about 10 years. One part of his journey takes place on an island with a goddess who turns men into pigs. That goddess? Circe, of course. “Circe” (pronounced “sir-see”) tells the story of one of the daughters of Helios, the sun god. Being an immortal god, Circe’s story takes places over thousands of years. She is disliked by her whole family, and soon discovers that while she is not powerful like a traditional god, she does wield a power for witchcraft, which she harnesses and grows over her life. After some deep trickery, Circe is exiled to an island to live the rest of eternity alone. She meets a few visitors along the way, including the fabled Odysseus.

As mentioned, Circe the goddess is immortal. Knowing that thousands of years pass throughout the book, one would think that it may drag on unnecessarily, but I would have to disagree. From beginning to end, readers are drawn to this woman who has been cast aside and taken advantage of for most of her life. Her siblings and parents both cannot stand her, and she is often in solitude, even before she is exiled. Her resiliency is admirable, as she learns to stand her ground and say true to herself. She is seen throughout the novel as someone who truly cares about others – especially mortals, which the gods are not known for. While her family see this as a weakness, Circe’s empathy and caring make her someone that others grow to respect – and not out of fear, as is typical with gods.

As time goes on, Circe is known as a witch, probably more so than she is known for being a goddess. Her powers grow as her story goes on, and she becomes an incredibly powerful witch by the end of the novel. We see Circe concoct different potions and spells throughout the book for various reasons, and most are to help others. Her time on the island Aiaia is not completely solitary, and she uses her magic on those who visit, as well as to prevent others from coming. While Circe’s story can be found online or in Greek mythology books, I will keep this review spoiler-free for anyone who is starting to dip their feet into the world of Greek mythology. Plus, Miller has taken her own liberties with this storytelling, and potentially bringing in historical and mythological characters that are not typically part of Circe’s story. What I will say is that because Circe’s story spans thousands of years, there are several names that one has likely heard before that are a part of this novel, such as Odysseus, Daedalus and his son Icarus, the Minotaur and Hermes. If you’re looking for a book about a powerful woman, epic tales of glory and magic galore, pick up Madeline Miller’s Circe today!