This review is as spoiler-free as possible.
Book Title: Circe
Author: Madeline Miller
Premise: Circe is exiled from her home to the island of Aiaia where she becomes the witch she was destined to be.
My rating: 4 / 5
I had no altar, but I did not need one: anywhere I was became my temple.
I’ve been on a bit of an ancient Greece kick since Assassin’s Creed Odyssey came out. I loved reading the Iliad and the Odyssey in high school so much that I studied them again in university. Circe by Madeline Miller reminded me a lot of The Penelopiad by Margaret Atwood. I loved both books so much! Just like Atwood did with Penelope, Miller takes a minor character of Homer’s and puts her in the center stage.
Going Beyond a Retelling
I really enjoy these character-focused re-tellings like Circe and The Penelopiad. Rather than just regurgitate an old story for a modern audience, Miller creates a fantastical and believable fantasy world of the Greek gods. She takes familiar characters and events, and re-imagines them from Circe’s very human point of view.
One of the most interesting events that is re-imagined in Circe, is Prometheus’ punishment. Circe is portrayed as a goddess who has similar sympathies to Prometheus so it is very interesting to see how she reacts and what she learns from that event.
Circe and Prometheus are unique among the gods in their love for mortals. The rest of the pantheon is described in a similar way to the way they are portrayed in the original Odyssey except they are infinitely more petty and squabbling. The world of the Titans and Olympians is described beautifully, as is the mortal world that Circe chooses to inhabit.
Miller accomplishes a rare feat for a retelling. She at once changes nothing about The Odyssey and everything. Nothing that actually happened in the Odyssey is truly altered from the retelling of Circe. But the characters and the general perspective of them is changed in such a way that the original can never be read the same way again.
Rooting for the Underdog
Circe is an underdog. She is portrayed from the start as odd and plain. A stark contrast to the pantheon of gods and goddesses around her.
What I like the most about Circe is that she overcomes the stigma of being herself and finds her own power, not by harming or defeating her enemies in a very Grecian feat of power, but by improving herself and solving more problems than she causes.
There is no one in the story who is more shocked by Circe developing arcane powers than Circe herself. Her journey as a witch and learning to use her powers is endearing and unique. Circe has no teacher, no guidance, and yet she is able to accomplish astonishing feats. This is believable because Miller shows her stumble and fall many times before she rises.
The book, Circe, is another brick on the road to redefining womanhood and witchcraft. Witchcraft in particular has been overhauled incredibly in the last decade or so. Gone are the warts and the dank clothing, the notion of fabulous female empowerment is steadily taking over.
I think that these feminist re-tellings of history and myth are incredibly important. The female voice has been absent from the history and myth for too long.