[Review] Circe - Madeline Miller

Title of Book: Circe
Author: Madeline Miller
Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing UK
Publication Year: 2018
Language: English
Format: Hardback
Pages: 336

In the house of Helios, god of the sun and mightiest of the Titans, a daughter is born. But Circe has neither the look nor the voice of divinity, and is scorned and rejected by her kin. Increasingly isolated, she turns to mortals for companionship, leading her to discover a power forbidden to the gods: witchcraft.
When love drives Circe to cast a dark spell, wrathful Zeus banishes her to the remote island of Aiaia. There she learns to harness her occult craft, drawing strength from nature. But she will not always be alone; many are destined to pass through Circe's place of exile, entwining their fates with hers. The messenger god, Hermes. The craftsman, Daedalus. A ship bearing a golden fleece. And wily Odysseus, on his epic voyage home.
There is danger for a solitary woman in this world, and Circe's independence draws the wrath of men and gods alike. To protect what she holds dear, Circe must decide whether she belongs with the deities she is born from, or the mortals she has come to love. 


Circe is a fantasy book written by Madeline Miller which is loosely based on goddess/ nymph Circe from the Greek mythology. Circe is the daughter of Titan/ Sun God Helios and a Naiad named Perse. As a child, Circe was rejected by their fellow Gods and the like because she’s different. That changed when she turned a mortal man into a God and her fellow nymph Scylla into a monster. Right then she discovered that she has a gift of witchcraft. Since witchcraft was considered as forbidden power to God, Zeus punished Circe. As a punishment of her actions, she’s exiled to an isolated island called Aiaia. The book spans centuries over Circe’s life. Centuries, since she is basically an immortal. It follows Circe from her childhood to her adult life being exiled to the solitary island of Aiaia.
You don’t need to be fluent in Greek mythology to read Circe. This book is easy to read even for someone who’s not familiar with Greek mythology. The first half of the book chronicles around her childhood, living in the palace of Gods. Circe is not as majestic as other Gods. She’s also not as powerful as other Gods. At least in her childhood she wasn’t aware of her power yet. So she spent the majority of her childhood existing under the shadow of  her sibling Aeetes trying not to attract attention. When Aeetes left her to live in another kingdom their father gave him, Circe found herself being alone. That is until a ship sailed and brought Glaucos to her. Her meeting with Glaucos sets off events that will reveal her true power. Thus brings us to the second part of this book, Circe’s time as an exile in Aiaia. In the first part we see Circe and her struggle as an outcast. Even in the Gods’ realm, being different is a sin. Still, when her true power was revealed, other Gods fear her and sent her away as a punishment. As far as I understand, her only crime was to be different.

The second part of this book focuses more on Circe’s self-realization. We follow her managing life alone in an island while still practicing witchcraft. No matter how capable or powerful you are, being alone in an island is not a way to live. After years being isolated, she tried to seek companionship from whoever happens to be stranded on her island. But as a woman living alone in an island, one might expect to be taken advantages of by the people stranded on the island, who (not surprisingly) consist of men. Yet Circe refused to be abused, she fights back using her witchcraft. Until she met Odysseus and let him and his men stay for a year in her island. Odysseus’s stay then being extended and she grew to have feelings for him. Her encounter with Odysseus resulting in a child which apparently complicates her life as the Goddess of war Athena sets out to murder her child before a particular prophecy comes true. If throughout the book Miller humanizes Circe, motherhood even humanizes her more. It’s not Circe’s gift for witchcraft that makes her powerful, but her perseverance and maternal instinct, her willingness to do anything and sacrifice anything for her child is what makes her powerful. I truly admire Circe for her strength despite of being abused and oppressed throughout her life.

All in all, Circe is a book that illuminates ancient stories from a new perspective while also highlighting relevant issues. For those who are familiar with Greek mythologies such as Prometheus, Minotaur, or Odyssey will not aware of Circe’s presence as she’s considered as minor God in those stories. While in this book, Miller puts Circe on the center of it all. She retells a known story from another side, one which might not be told at all. I must say, Circe is an intense read and engrossing. I almost forget how it feels like being taken away by a fantasy story like when I read this book. I can see why this book is popular and getting positive reviews here and there. I highly recommend this book.

Let me say what sorcery is not: it is not divine power, which comes with a thought and a blink. It must be made and worked, planned and searched out, dug up, dried, chopped and ground, cooked, spoken over, and sung. Even after all that, it can fail, as gods do not.

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