Review: Circe

Author: Madeline Miller
Genre: Fantasy / Mythology

It is a well documented fact that Greek gods are assholes; That idea has been thoroughly explored in modern fiction. But one thing I’ve always felt was missing was a perspective for one of the many powerless women who were run roughshod over in those myths. And Circe provides that perspective.

In the Odyssey, Circe lived on an island and turned visiting sailors into pigs. It’s unclear in the original story why she did this. Sometimes women just live on islands and turn dudes into pigs, apparently. At some point Odysseus’ men show up and immediately piss her off and get transformed (because Odysseus’ men seem to have exactly zero impulse control), and Odysseus cleverly defeats Circe by having sex with her (because Odysseus solves problems with either wooden horses or his dick, and at this point in the story he is all out of horses) and sails on his way.

‘Circe’ gives us her backstory: How she got to the island, how she got to the point where turning men into pigs was a reasonable thing to do, and where she got her powers. We get to explore what it is like to be a woman in a pantheon where women exist to be taken, and what it is like to be minor goddess in a world full of powerful, self indulgent narcissists. It does so in prose that manages to feel Homeric, to the point where you can almost see the ‘wine dark sea’.

The book isn’t without flaws. While Circe has a great character arc and the world manages to have a fantastic mythological feel, an immortal protagonist prevents any sort of ensemble; instead the book almost feels like a travelogue with Circe staying in place and the world rotating around her. The lack of ensemble and the disconnected events of the story made the book feel thin somehow.

All in all it’s a pretty solid fantasy novel. It’s not something that you should jump to the front of your queue unless you have a particular interest in Greek mythology, but I don’t think you’ll regret reading it, either.

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