In the house of Helios, god of the sun and mightiest of the Titans, a daughter is born. But Circe is a strange child–not powerful, like her father, nor viciously alluring like her mother. Turning to the world of mortals for companionship, she discovers that she does possess power–the power of witchcraft, which can transform rivals into monsters and menace the gods themselves.
Threatened, Zeus banishes her to a deserted island, where she hones her occult craft, tames wild beasts and crosses paths with many of the most famous figures in all of mythology, including the Minotaur, Daedalus and his doomed son Icarus, the murderous Medea, and, of course, wily Odysseus.
But there is danger, too, for a woman who stands alone, and Circe unwittingly draws the wrath of both men and gods, ultimately finding herself pitted against one of the most terrifying and vengeful of the Olympians. To protect what she loves most, Circe must summon all her strength and choose, once and for all, whether she belongs with the gods she is born from, or the mortals she has come to love.
I will start by saying that Circe is one of the best books I have ever read. I’ve just finished it, and I know it’s something I will come back to again and again–I am seriously in awe of the beauty and emotion of this novel.
(Side note: This book is slow, it may not be for everyone. If I had to describe it to someone who has never read it, I would say it’s like Charlotte Bronte and Rick Riordan teamed up to write Game of Thrones. Despite this, I couldn’t put it down.)
Circe is a tale that is both familiar and brand new. We are regaled with stories of the Olympians and Titans, of Icarus and Achilles, of Odyssesus and Ajax. Yet our main character, Circe, is a lowly nymph: immortal, but as far as gods go, fairly powerless. This book covers the span of a couple hundred years of Circe’s eternity, and within it there is an astounding amount of growth and wisdom. The Olympian setting itself is intriguing, but it is the characters that truly bring the world to life. Miller was able to capture the fickle and careless whims of all-powerful gods, and the follies granted by an eternity. She draws out the complex nature of mortal men–she does not shy from the shame, regret, and downfalls of humanity, nor does she fail to show the immense love and joy that accompanies life. Circe is fascinating because she is caught in between these two worlds, and she uses her experiences to evolve herself. She’s not immune from the folly and rage of the gods, but she is humbled enough to see that the passion of mankind makes their short years of life worth more than eternity. The style of writing is what drew me in. Miller writes with elegant, subtle prose that never has a single meaning. Through it, we are able to feel Circe’s ever-fluctuating emotions: we rage with her, we love with her, we cry with her, we learn with her. There were so many moments of such absolute sweetness and longing and truth. Layers of hinting language and insinuations that make reading the novel provocative and engaging, it’s a unique experience for each reader.
(This paragraph isn’t really a great contributor to the review itself, just something I wanted to discuss) This brings my to the number one reason why I’m so in love with this book, and that is what I can learn from it. All of my favorite books have this in common: I learn something that I could never really grasp before. For Circe, this lesson hit me hard for the moment I’m at right now in life: I’ll be going to college soon, and leaving everything that I know and love behind. I will be on the other side of the country, surrounded by strangers, in a city that isn’t my home yet. Lately, I’ve found myself counting down the days, but with more dread than excitement. It feels like there is a clock constantly ticking, reminding me that, soon, I will be alone. Circe has taught me that I should value all of my time here, because eventually it will end, but I can’t spend all my time focusing on that end. It sounds cheesy, cliche, and hackneyed, but this book showed me in a different way why it is so necessary. It is because time is against us, because the end is inevitable, that we are able to truly find purpose in life. We cannot spend eons grieving or longing for the way things were. To paraphrase Miller, the tales of gods and their immortality will always fascinate us, but their eternity is true death because their life never changes; it leads to nothing. As humans, our worlds and our lives are incredibly fast-paced, and because of that, we go on. Our hearts heal and our souls adapt; our roots are planted firmly enough that we learn to love where we are, but not so deeply that we cannot leave without being broken. I guess what I’m trying to say in this long rant is that I needed this book right now. It is a bit of reassurance. There is comfort in knowing that things will always change, but we can take a little of what we love along with us, and learn to love something new again. At the end, we will have all of these things that we’ve immortalized in our heart, and they cannot be taken.
“He does not mean that it does not hurt. He does not mean that we are not frightened. Only that: we are here. This is what it means to swim in the tide, to walk the earth and feel it touch your feet. This is what it means to be alive.”