by Madeleine Miller
Published by Little, Brown Group (2018)
If you like mythology or historical fiction, chances are you already know a fair deal about Troy, Zeus, and Titan. If you’ve grown up reading Rick Riordan, you know lots about other Gods too, and Heroes of Olympus as well. But if you take a closer look at perspectives you have, they’re predominantly male-oriented, and point of view chapters in books based off Greek history are largely male as well.
That’s a gap that Miller seeks to explore.
The protagonist of this book is the titular character, Circe herself. Daughter of a naiad and Helios, Circe is immortal, and the adventures she witnesses serves a reminder of the greatest bits of Greek mythology: Prometheus and his endless punishment, Scylla and Charybdis, Hermes, Apollo, Athena, Daedalus and his son Icarus, Ariadne and the Minotaur (who is Circe’s nephew), Jason and the Golden Fleece – and Odysseus, of course, who in Book 10 of The Odyssey encounters Circe when he lands on her island and she changes some of his sailors into pigs.
But let’s set aside events and historical accuracy. Miller shows immaculate research in her portrayal of characters, but also incredible restraint. Of all nymphs, her choice of Circe as the protagonist leaves her with room to portray the trials of an oft-ignored part of the arcs in mythology – the perspective of shunned, imperfect Goddesses.
Circe’s story is one of pain, trial, and constant heartbreak. It’s also the story of a traditionally grey moral character, one whose intentions are sometimes branded as “evil”. When she does acts cast as “good”, she struggles with relationships – whether with her own family, mortals, or other Gods. Conflict, internal and external, is a theme that persists, and leaves you watning more.
For me, Circe offered up a world full of color, a world of eternal life and leviathans, of clashing gods and witchcraft, all while tying in mythological tales that’ve been handed down for ages. That makes it worth the read.