Publish Date: April 10, 2018
“You can teach a viper to eat from your hands, but you cannot take away how much it likes to bite.” — Circe
In the house of Helios, god of the sun and mightiest of the Titans, a daughter is born. But Circe has neither the look nor the voice of divinity, and is scorned and rejected by her kin. Increasingly isolated, she turns to mortals for companionship, leading her to discover a power forbidden to the gods: witchcraft.
When love drives Circe to cast a dark spell, wrathful Zeus banishes her to the remote island of Aiaia. There she learns to harness her occult craft, drawing strength from nature. But she will not always be alone; many are destined to pass through Circe’s place of exile, entwining their fates with hers. The messenger god, Hermes. The craftsman, Daedalus. A ship bearing a golden fleece. And wily Odysseus, on his epic voyage home.
There is danger for a solitary woman in this world, and Circe’s independence draws the wrath of men and gods alike. To protect what she holds dear, Circe must decide whether she belongs with the deities she is born from, or the mortals she has come to love.
I am not a fantasy reader. The fantasy books that I’ve read can be counted on one hand. I’m not a mythology fan either, but I wanted to read Circe because I heard that a talented author wrote a captivating story.
I didn’t know who Circe is before reading this book. Circe has been called a witch, a sorceress, a nymph, and a goddess, but whatever the label, she is the daughter of the sun god Helios, and Perse, an Oceanid nymph. Circe is the runt of the family, born without any talents or powers compared to her god/goddess siblings. She is exiled to a remote island where she learns to hone her talents in witchcraft, and this book follows her through her transformation into a powerful mythical figure.
Circe is a humanized character that compelled me to root for her. She is resilient, practical, resourceful, thoughtful, creative, and yearns for love and close relationships. She constantly evolves, she learns from her experiences, and makes the best out of her situations. She understands the politics of the gods. She recognizes that she straddles a world between gods and mortals. She is a survivor.
Many well-known mythology figures are in the book, including Helios (the Sun God), Scylla (an ocean monster), The Minotaur, Daedalus (a craftsman and artist) and his son Icarus, Medea (daughter of her brother King Aeëtes and a niece of Circe), and Odysseus (king). I got to know all of them through this amazing story.
Here are my favorite quotes:
“You cannot know how frightened gods are of pain. There is nothing more foreign to them, and so nothing they ache more deeply to see.”
“That is one thing gods and mortals share. When we are young, we think ourselves the first to have each feeling in the world.”
“But of course I could not die. I would live on, through each scalding moment to the next. This is the grief that makes our kind choose to be stones and trees rather than flesh.”
“Witchcraft is nothing but such drudgery. Each herb must be found in its den, harvested at its time, grubbed up from the dirt, culled and stripped, washed and prepared. It must be handled this way, then that, to find out where its power lies. Day upon patient day, you must throw out your errors and begin again. So why did I not mind? Why did none of us mind?”
“But in a solitary life, there are rare moments when another soul dips near yours, as stars once a year brush the earth. Such a constellation was he to me.”
“A golden cage is still a cage.”
“He showed me his scars, and in return he let me pretend that I had none.”
This book is about transformation, power, freedom, love, motherhood, self-discovery, determination, isolation, loneliness, complicated family relationships, grudges, revenge, creativity, magic, potions, and spells. It has many positive messages about strong women and overcoming challenges. It reminds me that you have to work hard to get what you want, and that things that are earned are much more meaningful than things that are given to you.
Madeline Miller’s writing blew me away. She makes gods, titans, nymphs, and witches relatable to an average reader like me. I am not familiar with Greek mythology at all, but I am able to follow this story very easily. I did Google some of these gods for additional context, and it was helpful and interesting. You don’t need to have a mythology background to enjoy this book; this tale is about a minor goddess with a major story. It’s an incredible book that lingers in my mind and the writing is phenomenal.
I really hope that this book will be made into a movie.
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Thank you to the Sacramento Public Library for the opportunity to read this book.