Someone I know described Circe as “Percy Jackson for adults.” To me, there seems to be no description more apt for this spellbinding tale. Circe is acclaimed author Madeline Miller’s take on the titular character, the ancient Greek enchantress best known for bewitching Odysseus and temporarily turning his crew into pigs in The Odyssey. After centuries of neglect, this witch finally gets her own story.
There is much to be said about reading a book and knowing exactly what is going to happen. Miller, a devout student of the classics, does not deviate much from the accepted literary canon. Circe hosts Odysseus and later Telemachus (as well as her niece Medea and a few gods). She helps her sister Pasiphaë birth the minotaur and jealously turns the nymph Scylla into a ravenous monster. Because of this set plot, there are often extended breaks in the action of the story. This was not a problem for me. I enjoyed Circe’s inner monologues and Miller’s lush descriptions of the Greek landscapes.
“Humbling women seems to me a chief pastime of poets. As if there can be no story unless we crawl and weep.”
What makes Circe notable in a seemingly endless sea of classic retellings is the reframing of its protagonist in a deservedly feminist light. Gone is the infamous sorceress best remembered for deviously concocting poisons and seducing Odysseus. She is replaced by a tenacious woman who quietly fights for her humanity (if that is the correct word to describe it) amidst numerous challenges, most of them male. In Miller’s story, and now forever in my mind, Circe is a symbol of female perseverance in a male dominated world. Her story of endurance is a timeless lesson in the same vein as the stories of the mythic men she has existed amongst for centuries.
If you’re longing for a mythology fix that’s a little more mature than Rick Riordan’s novels, curious about The Odyssey‘s famous enchantress, or just interested in a captivating, empowering fantasy novel, Circe is for you. In fact, it was so fantastic that as soon as I finish writing this review, I’m going to pick up Miller’s previous novel, The Song of Achilles.