The most startling thing about Madeline Miller’s mythological novel Circe is its humanity. For a story about gods and titans and monsters it’s surprisingly full of human emotion and desire – a trait that takes a topic that’s been beaten half to death and transforms it into something worth reading.
Circe is a fantasy novel based on well-known Greek mythology. The novel’s titular character is the daughter of Helios, a powerful Titan sun god. Despite being born in a high position, Circe is neither powerful nor beautiful, and thus has little to offer her family or potential suitors. Destined to live forever because of her god blood, Circe tries desperately to find a place for herself in the complicated world she was born into. When she begins to show an affinity for witchcraft, she is exiled by Zeus to a remote island where she will never be able to challenge his power.
Over the course of nearly 400 pages, Circe hones her craft and meets many of the prominent figures of Greek mythology: Hermes, Ares, Athena, Icarus and more. At first her story is one of betrayal, loss and solitude, but as centuries pass and she adjusts to her new life, Circe also experiences love and freedom and adventure. She meets and forms bonds with some of the most well-known characters in classical history and through them learns about the goings on in the world she can no longer explore.
Circe is a story about learning to fend for oneself and finding satisfaction in solitude. After the early years of her life were spent feeling alone in a palace filled with other people, Circe is able to appreciate the small joys of being alone. Her wonder and love for the natural world make her an easily likeable character, and her spell-casting abilities add complexities and depth to her story.
I have never been particularly drawn to the fantasy genre, always having preferred more realistic plot lines and characters. Circe was a lovely reprieve from everything else I’ve read recently, and while I may not have come away with a strong desire to read other books like it, I’m glad I picked it up and gave it a try. Madeline Miller, who also authored a novel called The Song of Achilles, has clearly done her research to tell this story of mythology. She portrays the Greek gods in original, entertaining ways, and allows the readers to connect with their familiar names and stories. It’s quite a long novel, and there are several moments in which drags a bit, but for the most part Circe moves along quickly and sets an upbeat pace.
Miller’s writing is eloquent and soulful, and she infuses mythology we’ve all heard before with something new and unique. Circe is a very readable story that’s worth giving a try even if it doesn’t fall into your usual genres.