If you’ve got Instagram and follow any bookstagram account then I can guarantee you’ve seen the stunning copper coloured cover of Circe by Madeleine Miller. It’s been a bookstagram favourite for a while, and having heard so much of the Greek sorceress who turns men into swine, I was keen to explore whether Circe lived up to the hype.
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We begin in the house of Helios, god of the sun, and naiad Perse. Circe is the eldest of four siblings and an outcast in her realm. Without her fathers’ prowess or her mothers’ alluring qualities Circe is openly bullied, mocked and ignored amongst her immortal kin. Seeking refuge and companionship amongst the mortals, we begin to see Circe’s unique story unfold.
Welcomed into the mortal world of man, love blossoms for Circe. As with many stories of love, there is heartbreak and betrayal and this story is no different. Discovering she possesses the power of witchcraft, Circe begins exploring her skills creating a scandal like no other.
Her vengeful actions plague her with guilt causing her to confess her crimes only to be seen as a threat by the almighty Zeus. She is later exiled to the isle of Aiaia where she refines her knowledge of her craft.
Alone on Aiaia spending her days tending her herbs and taming the wild animals of the island, exposes Circe to the dark and ugly side of man. Her self-defence lies in the form of shifting those who harm her into swine. Her actions unwittingly draw the attention of both men and gods, until Circe ultimately finds herself drawn into a game with one Olympian who has a very high price for her to pay. Torn between a world of those she loves and the world she is born from, Circe must make her choice of where she belongs.
“That is one thing gods and mortals share. When we are young, we think ourselves the first to have each feeling in the world.”CIRCE, MADELINE MILLER
In this interesting retelling of greek mythology, Madelline Miller has keenly and uniquely explored female figures from the past. Many would jump up and down stating that women writing historical female figures often feel the need to empower these characters. Miller has done just that; and done it deliberately, in my opinion. And do you know what, I loved it. I mean, a goddess who turns mortal men into swine? Sounds like she was pretty empowered before Miller began writing this book if you ask me. Miller deftly explores the voices of women in a patriarchal society and wraps this up in what I would describe as a powerful and complex heroine. There are occasions where we really dig into Circe’s inner thoughts and I found this to be very revealing. Miller strives for Circe to be relatable – if a god can be. If you strip out the divinity element of this book, then really Circe is a woman fighting to live in a man’s world.
There is a soft but intricate style to the world building within this story, coupled with vivid descriptions and a myriad of imposing characters. Miller has created two distinct worlds for Circe. One where she crosses paths with many of the most famous figures in Greek mythology including the Minotaur, Daedalus and his legendary son Icarus. Another, where her love, betrayal, pain and motherhood are distinctly carved. The clashing of these two worlds showcase the turmoil and choices a woman must face where societal expectations are thrust upon her. Circe navigates both emotional and political situations with a level of cunning that is almost sinister. Sitting back and watching the consequences of her rage ultimately leading to the undoing of characters, was both frightening and fascinating.
This was a knockout book by Madelleine Miller. Beautifully written, immersive and provocative.
The strength of women, as well as the downfall and manipulation of characters makes this book incredibly powerful. I feel this retelling makes this story contemporary and distinct. I will certainly be keeping this one to read again.
Oh, and this also goes on my list of ‘Beautiful Book Covers’. For obvious reasons.
So let’s make it official. This is my first 5 star book review and what a brilliant tale it is!
Rating: ★★★★★/5 stars
As always, happy reading!
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