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Goodreads Choice Award
Winner for Best Fantasy (2018)
In the house of Helios, god of the sun and mightiest of the Titans, a daughter is born. But Circe is a strange child--neither 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 with the mortals she has come to love.

393 pages, Hardcover

First published April 10, 2018

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About the author

Madeline Miller

15 books64.3k followers
Madeline Miller was born in Boston and grew up in New York City and Philadelphia. She attended Brown University, where she earned her BA and MA in Classics. For the last ten years she has been teaching and tutoring Latin, Greek and Shakespeare to high school students. She has also studied at the University of Chicago’s Committee on Social Thought, and in the Dramaturgy department at Yale School of Drama, where she focused on the adaptation of classical texts to modern forms. She currently lives in Cambridge, MA, where she teaches and writes. The Song of Achilles is her first novel.

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Profile Image for Will Byrnes.
1,309 reviews120k followers
September 20, 2022
Men, can’t live with ‘em, can’t turn ‘em all into swine.

What do you mean turn them into swine? From her earliest application of her new found transformative skills it is suggested that what Circe turns her unfortunate guests into has more to do with their innermost nature than Circe’s selection of a target form. (The strength of those flowers lay in their sap, which could transform any creature to its truest self.) Clearly her sty residents had an oinky predisposition. And I am sure that there are many who had started the transformation long before landing on her island.

Whaddya call the large sty Circe filled with erstwhile men? A good start.

Ok. You had to know this would be part of the deal for this review. So, now that I have gotten it out of my system, (it is out, right?) we can proceed.
When I was born, the name for what I was did not exist.
It was a word that Barbara Bush might have had in mind when she described Geraldine Ferraro, her husband’s opponent for the Vice Presidency, in 1984. “"I can't say it, but it rhymes with 'rich,'" she said, later insisting that the word in question did not begin with a “b,” but a “w.” Sure, whatever. But in this case, I suppose both might apply. Circe is indeed the first witch in western literature. And many a sailing crew might have had unkind things to say about her.

Madeline Miller - image from The Times

Our primary introduction to Circe (which we pronounce as Sir-Sea, and even Miller goes along with this, so people don’t throw things at her. But for how it might be pronounced in Greek, you know, the proper way, you might check out this link. Put that down, there will be no throwing of things in this review!) was that wondrous classic of Western literature, The Odyssey. Given how many times this and its companion volume, The Iliad, have been reworked through the ages, it is no surprise that there have been many variations on the stories they told. Circe’s story has seen its share of re-imaginings as well. But Miller tries to stick fairly close to the Homeric version. Be warned, though, some license was taken, and other sources inspired the work as well. But it is from Homer that we get the primary association we have with her name, the magical transmutation of men into pigs.

George Romney's 1782 portrait of Emma Hamilton as Circe - image from wikipedia

We follow the life of our Ur-witch from birth to whatever. She did not start out with much by way of godly powers. Her mother, Perse, daughter of the sea-god Oceanos, was a nymph, and her father was Helios, the sun god. Despite the lofty position of Pop’s place in things, Circe was just a nymph, on the low end of the godly powers scale. This did not help in the family to which she had been born. Not one of her parents’ favorites, she was blessed with neither power nor beauty, had a very ungod-like human-level voice, and her sibs were not exactly the nicest. Kinda tough to keep up when daddy is the actual bloody sun.

Years pass, and one day she comes across a mortal fisherman. He seems pretty nice, someone she can talk to. She’d like to take it to the next stage, so she lays low, listens in on family gatherings, and picks up intel on substances that might be used to effect powerful and advantageous changes. She asks her grandmother, Tethys, (very Lannisterish wife AND SISTER to Oceanos) to transform him into a god for her, but Granny throws her out, alarmed when her granddaughter mentions this pharmakos stuff she had been looking into. Left to her own devices she tries this out on her bf, making him into his truest self. It does not end the way she’d hoped. (Pearls before you-know-what.) Not the last bad experience she would have with a man.

Levy’s 1889 Circe - image from wikipedia

Her relationships with men are actually not all bad. Daddy is singularly unfeeling, and can be pretty dim for such a bright bulb, and her brothers are far less than wonderful, but there is some good in her sibling connections as well. She has a warm interaction with a titan, Prometheus, which is a net positive. Later, she has an interesting relationship with Hermes, who is not to be trusted, but who offers some helpful guidance. And then there are the mortals, Daedalus (the master artist, the Michelangelo, the Leonardo da Vinci of his era), Jason, of Argonaut fame, Odysseus, who you may have heard of, and more. There were dark encounters as well, and thus the whole turning-men-into-pigs thing.

Brewer's 1892 Circe and Her Swine - image from Wikipedia

Miller has had a passion for the classics since she was eight, when her mother read her the Iliad and began taking her to Egyptian and Greek exhibits at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. It made her a nerdy classmate but was a boon when she got to college and was able to find peers who shared her love of the ancient tales. It was this passion that led her to write her first novel, The Song of Achilles, a reimagining of Achilles relationship with his lover, Patroclus, a delight of a book, a Times bestseller, and winner of the Orange prize. It took her ten years to write her first novel, about seven for this one and the gestation period for number three remains to be seen. She is weighing whether to base it on Shakespeare’s The Tempest or Virgil’s Aeneid. If past is portent, it will be the latter, and should be ready by about 2025.

Ulysses and Circe, Angelica Kauffmann, 1786. - image from Miller’s site

The central, driving force in the story is Circe becoming her fullest possible self. (I suppose one might say she made a silk purse from a sow’s ear. I wouldn’t, but some might.)
This is the story of a woman finding her power and, as part of that, finding her voice. She starts out really unable to say what she thinks and by the end of the book, she’s able to live life on her terms and say what she thinks and what she feels. - from the Bookriot interview
Most gods are awful sorts, vain, selfish, greedy, careless of the harm they do to others. Circe actually has better inclinations. For instance, when Prometheus is being tortured by the titans for the crime of giving fire to humans, Circe alone is kind to him, bringing him nectar, and talking with him when no one else offers him anything but anger and scorn. She is curious about mortals, and asks him about them, going so far as to cut herself to experience a bit of humanity.

Carracci's c. 1590 Ulysses and Circe in the Farnese Palace - image from Wikipedia

Livestock comes in for some attention outside the sty. Turns out Circe’s father has a thing for a well-turned fetlock, so maybe she comes by her affinity for animals of all sorts, albeit in a very different way, quite naturally. Her island is rich with diverse fauna, including some close companions most of us would flee. An early version of Doctor Doolittle?
Scholars have debated whether Circe’s pet lions are supposed to be transformed men, or merely tamed beasts. In my novel, I chose to make them actual animals, because I wanted to honor Circe’s connection to Eastern and Anatolian goddesses like Cybele. Such goddesses also had power over fierce animals, and are known by the title Potnia Theron, Mistress of the Beasts.
Not be confused with The Beastmaster

Circe and Odysseus. Allessandro Allori, 1560 - image from Miller’s site

While she has her darker side (she does change her nymph love-rival Scylla into a beast of epic proportions, which gets her sent to her room, or in this case, island, and there is that pig thing again) she is also a welcoming hostess on her isle of exile, Aiaia. (Which sounds to me like the palindromic beginning of a lament, Aiaiaiaiaiaiaia, which might feel a bit more familiar with a minor transformation, to oy-oy-oy-oy-oy-oy-oy-oy). I mean, she runs a pretty nifty BnB, with free-roaming wild animals, of both the barnyard and terrifying sort, a steady flow of wayward nymphs sent there by desperate parents in hopes that Circe might transform them into less troublesome progeny, a table with a seemingly bottomless supply of food and drink. And she is more than willing to offer special services to world-class mortals, among others. I mean, after that little misunderstanding with Odysseus about his men, (Pigs? What pigs? What could you possibly mean? Oh, you mean those pigs. Oopsy. How careless of me.) she not only invites everyone to stay for a prolonged vacay, but shacks up with the peripatetic one, offers him instructions on reaching the underworld, suggests ways to get past Scylla and Charybdis, and probably packs bag lunches for him and his crew. She is not all bad.

Barker's 1889 Circe - image from Wikipedia

Circe struggles with the mortals-vs-immortals tension. Her mortal voice makes her less frightening to the short-lived ones, allowing her to establish actual relationships with them that a more boombox-voice-level deity might not be able to manage. Of course, it is still quite limiting that even the youngest of her mortal love interests would wither and die while she remained the same age pretty much forever. Knowing that you will see any man you love die is a definite limiting factor. Yet, she manages. She certainly recognizes what a psycho crew the immortals are, even her immediate family, and respects that mortals who gain fame do so by the sweat of their brow or extreme cunning, (even if it is to dark purpose) not their questionable godly DNA. Reinforcing this is her front row seat to the real-housewives tension between the erstwhile global rulers, the Titans, and the relatively new champions of everything there is, the Olympians. I mean, perpetual torture, thunderbolts, ongoing seditious plots, the nurturing of monsters, wholesale slaughter of mortals? She knows a thing or two, because she’s seen a thing or two.
My thoughts about [Circe as caregiver] really start with the gods, who in Greek myth are horrendous creatures. Selfish, totally invested only in their own desires, and unable to really care for anyone but themselves. Circe has this impulse from the beginning to care for other people. She has this initial encounter with Prometheus where she comes across another god who seems to understand that and also who triggers that impulse in her. I wanted to write about what it’s like when you to want to try to be a good person, but you have absolutely no models for that. How do you construct a moral view coming from a completely immoral family? - from Bookriot interview
Circe Offering the Cup to Odysseus – by John William Waterhouse – 1891 - image from Wikimedia

Of course, there is a pretty straight line between the sort of MCP hogwash Circe had to endure in the wayback and recent events that have been getting so much attention of late
“I wasn’t trying to write Circe’s story in a modern way… I was just trying to be true to her experience in the ancient world.”
“It was a very eerie experience. I would put the book away and check the news. The top story was literally the same issue I had just been writing about — sexual assault, abuse, men refusing to allow women to have any power ... I was drawn to the mystery of her character — why is she turning men into pigs?”
– from The Times interview
There are plenty of classical connections peppered throughout Circe’s tale. Jason and Medea (niece) pop by for a spell. She is summoned to assist in the birthing of the minotaur (nephew) to her seriously nasty sister. She is part of Scylla’s origin story, interacts with Prometheus (cousin), gives shit to Athena, even heads into the briny deep to take a meeting with a huge sea creature (no, not the Kraaken). Hangs with Penelope (her bf’s wife) and Telemachus (bf’s son), and spends a lot of time with Hermes. She definitely had a life, many even, particularly for someone who was ostracized to live on an island.
For Circe, I would say the Odyssey was my primary touch-stone in the sense that that’s where I started building the character. I take character clues directly from Homer’s text, both large and small. I mentioned her mortal-like voice. The lions. The pigs. And then when I get to the Odysseus episode in the book, I follow Homer obviously very closely… - from the BookRiot interview
"Circea", #38 in Boccaccio's c. 1365 De Claris Mulieribus, a catalogue of famous women, from a 1474 edition - image from wikipedia
In terms of sources, I used texts from all over the ancient world and a few from the more modern world as well. For Circe herself, I drew inspiration from Ovid’s Metamorphoses and Apollonius of Rhodes’ Argonautica, Vergil’s Aeneid, the lost epic Telegony (which survives only in summary) and myths of the Anatolian goddess Cybele. For other characters, I was inspired by the Iliad, of course, the tragedies (specifically the Oresteia, Medea and Philoctetes), Vergil’s Aeneid again, Tennyson’s Ulysses and Shakespeare’s Troilus and Cressida. Alert readers may note a few small pieces of Shakespeare’s Ulysses in my Odysseus! - from Refinery29 interview
Circe – by Lorenzo Garbieri - image From Maicar Greek Mythology Link

Madeline Miller’s Circe is not a lovelorn, lonely heart desperate for connection in her isolation, but a multi-faceted character (not actually a human being, though), with inner seams of the dark and light sort, with family issues that might seem familiar in feel, if not in external content, with sins on her soul, but a desire to do good, and with a curiosity about the world. She may not have been the brightest light in the house of Helios, but she glowed with an inner strength, a capacity for mercy, an appreciation for genius, beauty and talent, and a fondness for pork. This is the epic story of a life lived to the fullest. Circe is an explorer, a lover, a destroyer, and can be a very angry goddess. This transformative figure is our doorway to a very accessible look at the Greek tales which lie at the root of so much of our culture. If you have a decent grounding in western mythology this will offer a delightful refresher. If you do not, it can offer a delightful introduction, and will no doubt spark a desire to root about for more. Madeline Miller may not have a wand with special powers, or transmogrifying potions at her command, but she demonstrates here a power to transform mere readers into fans. Circe is a fabulous read! You will go hog wild for it. Can you pass the hot dogs? That’s All Folks

The Sorceress Circe, oil painting by Dosso Dossi, c. 1530; in the Borghese Gallery, RomeSCALA/Art Resource, New York – image from Britannica

Review first posted – 4/27/2018

Publication date – 4/10/2018

December 2018 - Circe wins the 2018 Goodreads Choice Award for favorite Fantasy novel of the year

==========In the summer of 2019 GR reduced the allowable review size by 25%, from 20,000 to 15,000 characters. And then in 2021 GR banned the inclusion of external links in comments. (I used to put the overage there) As a result of these two new restrictions, I have been forced to truncate the review available on Goodreads. To see the entirety, including EXTRA STUFF and all the links, please head on over to my site, Coot's Reviews. No size restrictions there.
Profile Image for Melanie.
1,172 reviews98.8k followers
September 13, 2019

ARC provided by the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

✨ Signed and personalized copies are available through Main Point Books! (They can ship anywhere in the US, anywhere in the UK, and also to some other international locations)

“When I was born, the name for what I was did not exist.”

This is the pièce de résistance I’ve been searching for my entire life. Not only did I fall in love with this story, I predict that this will be the best book I’ll read all year. This book is about healing and doing what it takes to come into your own. This book is about love; the love between lovers, the love of a mother, and the love you must find in yourself. This book proves why family of choice will always be greater than family of origin. This book is about magic, and how we can find it in ourselves if we look hard enough. This is a book about becoming the witch you’ve always buried deep inside you.

“They do not care if you are good. They barely care if you are wicked. The only thing that makes them listen is power.”

Okay, maybe I should start this review off with a somewhat personal story. I was very privileged to go a very good high school where I was able to study The Iliad and The Odyssey for a class my freshman year. And fourteen-year-old Melanie fell in love. To say I was obsessed was an understatement, and more and more my heart was filled with love for Odysseus, Athena, and a certain love affair with the witch-goddess Circe.

(Beautiful art by Kevin Nichols)

Even upon finishing that class, I still couldn’t get enough of Homer’s words. And to this day, The Iliad and The Odyssey are the only books that I collect many editions of. All my loved ones and family correlate these epic poems with me, and always bring me new editions from their travels, and give me gifts for special events and holidays the same way they do with Harry Potter. One of the most prized possession I own is an edition of The Odyssey that was given to me by someone who meant a lot to me, at a very important time in my life. And these two tomes will always be a big part of my identity, and I will always recognize that they not only shaped me as a reader, but they shaped me as a human being, too.

So, when I found out that that Greek mythology retelling queen, Madeline Miller, was writing a book centered around Circe, I knew it was going to end up being one of my favorite books of all time. And it ended up being everything I wanted and more. I hate to throw around the word masterpiece, but if I had to pick a book to give that title to, I’d pick Circe.

“Odysseus, son of Laertes, the great traveler, prince of wiles and tricks and a thousand ways. He showed me his scars, and in return he let me pretend that I had none.”

And even though Odysseus plays a huge role in this story, this book is Circe’s and Circe’s alone. We get to see her growing up in Oceanus, with her Titan sun god father Helios, and loveless nymph mother Perse, and her three more ambitious siblings, Aeëtes, Pasiphaë, and Perses. We get to see her living her life of solitude, exiled on the island of Aiaia. We also get to see her make a few very important trips, that are very monumental in Greek mythos. But we get to see all of Circe, the broken parts, the healing parts, and the complete parts. We get to see her love, her loss, her discovery, her resolve, and her determination. We get to see her question what it means to be immortal, what it means to be a nymph in a world ruled by gods, and what it means to just live. Her journey is unlike anything I’ve ever read before, and probably unlike anything I will ever read again. I have no combination of words to express how much her life and her story means to me. But I promise, I’m not the same person I was before reading this book.

“…All my life had been murk and depths, but I was not a part of that dark water. I was a creature within it.”

This is ultimately a story about how different the tales will always be told for a man. And how the ballads will always be sung for heroes, not heroines, even if a woman was truly behind all the success the man greedily reaped. How the light will always fall to vilify the woman and showcase her as a witch that needs to be tamed, a sorceress that needs to be subdued, or an enchantress that needs to be defeated. Women, no matter how much agency they carve out in any male dominated world, will always be a means to an end to further the achievements of man. Always. And Circe displays that at the forefront of this story.

Circe is most well known for turning Odysseus’s men into pigs when they come to her island in The Odyssey, but Madeline Miller does such a wonderful job weaving all this Greek mythology into a fully fleshed out, brand-new tale. She has created something so unique, yet so breathtakingly good, I think so many readers will find it impossible to put this new-spin of a story down. I was completely captivated and enthralled from the very first line to the very last line. This book just feels so authentic, I felt like I was in the ocean, on the island, and traveling right beside Circe throughout. And I never wanted to leave her side.

“It was their favorite bitter joke: those who fight against prophecy only draw it more tightly around their throats.”

Overall, I understand that this is a book that is very targeted to me and my likes. Not only is this a character driven story, with a main protagonist being a character I’ve been in love with for over a decade, but the writing was lyrical perfection. I’m such a quote reader, and I swear I would have highlighted this entire book. This book is also so beautifully feminist that it makes me weep just thinking about the things Circe had to endure. And it showcases the unconditional love of found families, yet also between a mother and her child, while simultaneously abolishing the notion that blood is worth more than anything else in any world. This book heavily emphasizes that you will never be the mistakes that your parents have committed. The entire story is a love letter to love itself and reveals all the things we are willing to do in the name of it. And most importantly, this is a book about how we are truly only ever in charge of our own stories, even though our actions may change the fate for others around us. Please, pick this masterpiece up, and I hope it changes your life, too.

Thank you, Madeline Miller, I will carry your Circe in my heart for the rest of my life.

“That is one thing gods and mortals share: when we are young, we think ourselves the first to have each feeling in the world.”

Trigger/Content Warnings: Violence, gore, murder, torture, physical abuse, child abuse, thoughts of suicide, brief scene with cutting, graphic childbirth scenes, mention of bestiality, mention of incest, animal sacrifice, death of a sibling, death of a child, death of a loved one, death of an animal, rape, adultery, and war themes.

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The quotes above were taken from an ARC and are subject to change upon publication.

Buddy read with Elise (My French Spider Queen)! ❤
Profile Image for destiny ♡ howling libraries.
1,737 reviews5,279 followers
October 28, 2021
When I was born, the name for what I was did not exist.

Where do I even begin? This was one of the most amazing, beautiful, intricate, captivating books I have had the pleasure of reading in my entire life. I have been a bookworm since I was barely walking, and yet this book, this gorgeous retelling, has impacted me so profoundly that I genuinely do not know if I will ever be entirely the same.

It is a common saying that women are delicate creatures—flowers, eggs, anything that may be crushed in a moment’s carelessness. If I had ever believed it, I no longer did.

As a child, I loved Greek mythology, and though I lost some of that knowledge through recent years, when I heard that this story was releasing, I knew I just had to read it. I thought it was going to be the story from Circe’s point of view, but ultimately, I expected it to revolve around Odysseus; I had no idea that I was in for such a treat, though, as he is only a small portion of the immortal Circe’s life. This isn’t a retelling, it’s an origin story, a history, a tale of centuries’ worth of loves and losses, griefs and triumphs.

The thought was this: that all my life had been murk and depths, but I was not a part of that dark water. I was a creature within it.

From the very start, we see that Circe is so vastly set apart from her fellow gods and goddesses; as a nymph with the reedy voice of a mortal, she is told she is wholly useless, but it’s evident from the beginning that she is this brilliant, clever, strong woman: a force to be reckoned with in every way. I knew I would love her, but I couldn’t have predicted how fast or hard I would find myself rooting for her to succeed.

But of course I could not die. I would live on, through each scalding moment to the next. This is the grief that makes our kind choose to be stones and trees rather than flesh.

Of course, Circe’s exile on the isle of Aiaia is bound to be an unhappy story, and that’s a common thread throughout Circe: you always know something miserable or painful is on its way, but the moments in between those travesties, and the ways Circe handles the hand of cards life has dealt her, makes it so incredibly worth the ache. Perhaps the greatest thing about watching her struggle is how much relatability it lends to her character; despite being a goddess, an immortal, and a witch, Circe at her core is a spurned woman who has lived too long under the heels of spiteful, power-hungry men, and a wicked society that values beauty over strength.

But in a solitary life, there are rare moments when another soul dips near yours, as stars once a year brush the earth. Such a constellation was he to me.

Of course, Circe’s tale is not entirely a desolate one, but her joys are often her curses, as she loves mortals and sees in them the same potential that cursed Prometheus to his rock. Throughout her life, we get to see relationships come and go, and I was enthralled by how incredibly sex-positive and sure of herself she remains. Rather than selling herself away to the highest bidder, Circe’s primary focus is to never let her pursuit of pleasures and companionship win out over her need to be her own person.

“It is not fair,” I said. “I cannot bear it.”
“Those are two different things,” my grandmother said.

It was so enjoyable to watch the different characters cycle in and out of her memories, whether it was Daedalus and his loom, or Hermes and his messages and antics, or—of course—Odysseus, who we saw in a much more realistic light, as Circe portrayed an image of him that was far less heroic or noble than many of the legends would have one believe. There are even mentions of Patroclus and Achilles, and what became of them, though I was pleased to find that prior knowledge of The Song of Achilles was not at all necessary to fully enjoy this book.

I would look at him and feel a love so sharp it seemed my flesh lay open. I made a list of all the things I would do for him. Scald off my skin. Tear out my eyes. Walk my feet to bones, if only he would be happy and well.

Of all the things Madeline’s writing had to offer me, though, the one that meant the most to me was wholly unexpected: the perfect, beautiful depiction of motherhood through Circe’s relationship with her son. As a mother to a wild little boy of my own, I related to so many of her thoughts and fears, but most of all, to the utter authenticity of the love she describes for him. It consumes her entirely—for better or for worse—and her need to protect him holds such ferocity that she worries it will destroy her at times. Many of the thoughts she held for him gave me chills or brought tears to my eye, and throughout it all, I just kept thinking that I had never felt like motherhood had been so perfectly described as it is in this book.

You threw me to the crows, but it turns out I prefer them to you.

Truly, I could gush for days, but I’m going to cut myself off here and just ask you to please, please pick up a copy of this beautiful book. I sound like a broken record, but it meant so much to me, and has earned such a warm place in my heart that I know I will reread it over and over in the coming years. Whether you are a mother, or a lover of Greek mythology, or just a bookworm looking for a story that will capture you so wholly, you’ll never want to leave its embrace—this book is flawless, utter perfection, and I cannot possibly recommend it highly enough.

All quotes come from an unfinished ARC and may not match the finished release. Thank you to Little, Brown and Company for providing me with an ARC in exchange for my honest review!

Buddy read with Heather!

You can find this review and more on my blog, or you can follow me on twitter, bookstagram, or facebook!
Profile Image for  Teodora .
329 reviews1,777 followers
April 2, 2023

Changing my rating on this one because I've realised how comforting this book is actually to me. Also, I realised that the whole vibe and aesthetic of the narrative and the scenery and setting and the main character's are actually matching my personality and aesthetic. This could actually be one of the books that could describe me if I would ever have a list of them.

4.45/5 ⭐

Full review on my Blog: The Dacian She-Wolf 🐺

”Witches are not so delicate”.
Witches are raw power. And raw power through its definition is not delicate.

Being honest right now, I have never been a huge fan of Greek mythology. I used to be obsessed with Egyptian mythology and fascinated by the Celtic one. But Greek mythology seemed all Greek to me (pun intended!). Not because it was unattractive, but just because I never understood it properly. I felt like it was a never-ending tale, too elaborate for my capacity of understanding. But this book written by Madeline Miller, Circe, helped the eyes of my mind flush open with understanding and for this I am thankful.

Circe is introduced to us as a nobody. She is neither a full Goddess, in the true meaning of the concept, nor a mudblooded mortal. She is a Goddess, the daughter of the mighty Sun, the Titan Helios, and the beautiful nymph Perse, but the mundanity of her voice and the inutility of her presence made her a lesser Goddess in other Gods' point of view, even lesser than universally considered. She is an outcast even in her own family and as hard as she wants to change this, she’s bound by unseen powers not to (Fates, duh!).

The book expands some universal and social ideas: the road of an outcast hero, searching for love in a loveless life, feminist actions abnormal for the collective mentality of the time, vengeance and forgiveness. So many more.

Starting with the road of an outcast hero, all is there to say is if you are not outcasted, then you don’t suffer and if you don’t suffer you have no drive to make something worth out of your life. In this case, an infinite, immortal life. Circe’s exile on the isle of Aiaia makes her realise the infinite power that she possesses within her and everywhere around her. It all starts with a plant. It all ends with the same plant.

Pharmaka is associated in the book with witchcraft. The power of the herbs to heal is magical. In my native language, Romanian, there is a word similar to the word pharmaka and its meaning from the book. We say farmece, witchery spells. When someone does farmece to you, that person casts an unseen and unfelt spell over you (both metaphorically and practically speaking). Circe’s power is to tame the so-feared pharmaka and use it without being afraid.

Circe is a powerful individual, but she gains this power from her wisdom, the wisdom of time: ””You are wise”, he said. ”If it is so”, I said, ”it is only because I have been a fool enough for a hundred lifetimes””. She is a free spirit and she has her father’s roots of pride. She is her own master and she doesn't agree with the ancient etiquettes, sung by bards and stuck for eternity in people’s minds: „Humbling women seems to me a chief pastime of poets. As if there can be no story unless we crawl and weep”. This shows the power of freedom she raised in herself.

Circe is powerful, yes. Circe is unique. Circe is herself. She gives us a valuable lesson on how to live free and how to live sufficiently. She is a figure of self-respect and self-care and she says, with unspoken words, that if you want to live happily, you have to live true to yourself.

And as to paraphrase a quote from the book as my own strong impression of Circe, however gold she shines, do not forget her fire.
Profile Image for emma.
1,865 reviews54.3k followers
November 4, 2021
It is with immense regret and massive trepidation that I must say...

I don’t really get the hype.

I really and truly don’t. Why do you guys like this book so much? I am going to go through one potentially good thing by one ultimately disappointing thing and see if any of them click.

1) Because it’s a cool retelling?
This is why I was excited for this, as someone who loves retellings. Recycled plots? Old-timey magic and Revenge and mean dads and royalty and dashed love stories that make women turn witchy? Sign me the hell up! But this wasn’t really a retelling. It felt like if I were like “I’m going to rewrite American history, but from the perspective of some random chick who happened to be there for/sexually involved in a bunch of it.” It didn’t feel like one cohesive story at all. It felt like me writing a series of vignettes about a woman who had a crush on multiple founding fathers.

2) Did you all like Percy Jackson?
Is this Percy Jackson for the now-kind-of-grown-ups who once read Percy Jackson? Were you all the weird 11-year-olds who thought they were Greek mythology professors because they read about Logan Lerman’s quirky sea-based summer camp misadventures? (Sorry I mentioned the movie. I know you guys hate that.) I read those books in elementary school, too, but even then I was extremely cool and quirky and unique and had tons of unpopular opinions and wasn’t a big fan. So maybe it’s that?

3) Let’s talk about Greek mythology except with one woman instead of a bunch of men?
This is another reason I was excited about this, because I cannot think of a single instance in which a single witchy woman is not a million jillion times better than 100 interchangeable White Men Of History Or Fake Magic History. Well, now I can think of a single instance. If that woman spends the whole book basically on one island, even if that island is near monsters, even if that woman gets the occasional visit from a minor god or two, that is so much more boring. Because even with some significant editorializing, that woman is still witnessing maybe 7% of what’s going down. And it’s not really the fun 7%.

4) Let’s talk about Greek mythology except make it feminist and take out the girl hate?
Another thing that I was excited about and then all of the excitement was brutally eked out of my soul over the course of like 400 hours of listening or however long this book was. Circe f*cks a married man or two in this book, and uh. Last time I checked...not the most feminist? Also, she’s not exactly awesome to the spouses of these dudes. Double also, I feel like Penelope (Odysseus�� wife) was a pretty blank slate and could’ve been made into a real badass. Instead she, like so much of this book, was boring as hell.

5) Because there’s a badass female protagonist?
This was like the single biggest selling point to me, and therefore THE MOST WRENCHING DISAPPOINTMENT. I truly feel -- and maybe I’m the only one who feels this way -- like this was not so much a badass female protagonist as a woman who spends an (immortal, neverending) lifetime with a series of men. I did not want a series of romances. I wanted a badass, vengeful woman with witchy magical powers.

Bottom line:

What I wanted: Feminism! Mythology! Retelling! Badass cool protagonist!

What I got: Boring. Island. More island.

currently-reading updates

me: ok time to write an essay!

this traitor book: or - and here me out on this one - you could not do that and read instead

me: hm...compelling
Profile Image for Elle (ellexamines).
1,093 reviews17.7k followers
January 3, 2021
You threw me to the crows, but it turns out I prefer them to you.

My words are not as good as the ones in this book. Circe is a book about... finding yourself. But god, it stands out so far from just that.

Okay, to get started, I’m just going to say it: Madeline Miller is one of the best writers of our time. She has such a way with words that it is absolutely impossible not to be engaged in her storytelling.

The thing that brings this whole novel together is Circe’s character. She is a woman who has done awful, evil things, and yet remains unfailingly human. She is lonely, and harsh, and hiding herself in sarcasm much of the time. And there is not a moment in this novel in which I didn’t adore her. Madeline Miller does such an amazing job developing this character, weaving her thoughts into the narrative without manipulating you into feeling a certain way, keeping the narrative wide yet keeping it focused around Circe. Throughout this novel I developed such a deep level of admiration for both this author and this character, this character I’m sure will stay with me forever.

This novel is so interesting because at its core, it is an exploration of the voice of women in Greek mythology. Circe is a character we see nothing of in the narrative of Greek mythology, a character with seemingly evil intentions and little motivation – and all this despite showing up in several different stories. There’s something supremely excellent about seeing a character like this who is essentially a plot device be given a story. I know I have a tendency to repeat the term “narrative agency” but it beats repeating— I absolutely love giving characters who have been given no agency the agency they deserve.

I mean, everything about this book was just brilliant. I loved the myth interpretation: Penelope and Odysseus are both written perfectly, and seeing Jason basically get called an asshole while Medea stood on being young and morally grey and in love was so fantastic. And the exploration of gods vs. mortals is just brilliant:
You cannot know how frightened gods are of pain. There is nothing more foreign to them, and so nothing they ache more deeply to see.

I loved the relationships — just as a special note, the relationship between Circe and Telegonus made me want to cry. I basically loved everything.

I mean, I think you guys have gotten pretty easily why I liked this so much — a morally-grey-character-driven retelling revolving around agency is basically my entire what-I-like bio. This did all the things I like and I want to reread it daily and hourly. I very well might.

[I also want you all to know this book gave rise to my favorite update meme I have ever posted so thanks for that!!]

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buddyread with my favorite Melanie 💜
Profile Image for Emily May.
1,989 reviews298k followers
November 16, 2018
“Witches are not so delicate,” I said.

I absolutely loved this. If you enjoy Greek mythology, complex heroines, and a generous serving of adventure, bloodshed, betrayal, magic, and monsters - both literal and figurative - then hell, READ THIS BOOK.

To be honest, I wasn't a huge fan of Miller's The Song of Achilles when I read it a few years back. I'm not sure if that's because my tastes were different back then, or if it was just because the plot had more of a romantic focus than Circe. But, whatever the reason, I had no such problem with this book. I was absolutely captivated from start to finish.

Circe is part beautifully-written literary fantasy and part divine Greek soap opera. This strange combination makes for a book that is extremely quotable, rich in description and detail, and also a pageturner. It moves seamlessly between the broader scope of the world and its many gods and monsters, to the more narrow focus of the nymph-turned-witch, Circe, and her daily life before and after she is exiled to the island Aeaea.

Circe becomes a powerful witch, but the strength of her story is in all her relatable flaws and weaknesses. We follow her as a naive lesser nymph, longing to be accepted and loved. We stay with her as she believes the lies of others and, later, becomes hardened against such deceivers. Her compassion constantly battles with her rage. Understandably.

There is some grim satisfaction to be gained as this woman who has been bullied, belittled and trod on her entire life slowly claws out some vengeance for herself. The pain she endures along the way means that her successes are bittersweet. In the end, Circe might be full of fantasy, backstabbing and murder, but it is first and foremost the story of one woman's life - through pain, love, desire, heartache and motherhood.
I did not go easy to motherhood. I faced it as soldiers face their enemies, girded and braced, sword up against the coming blows. Yet all my preparations were not enough.

Other Greek myths play out in the background - that of the Minotaur, and of Icarus, as well as many others - but it is Circe's personal tale that hits the hardest. I just hope we don't have to wait another seven years for Miller to write another novel like this.

TW: Rape; graphic violence.

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Profile Image for Sean Barrs .
1,118 reviews44.8k followers
February 14, 2022
This is a beautiful book; it is flawless and intelligent. I do not have a single criticism for this fantastic piece of writing. I loved it!

Circe chronicles the life of a lesser god. She is the daughter of the mighty God Helios, the living embodiment of the sun. She is born without any particular talents or powers. She exists in the shadows of her more developed brothers and sisters. She does not shine in such spectacular company.

However, gifts come in many different forms and those with hidden talents are overlooked and devalued. More often than not quiet people are forgotten about and there worth ill-considered in all walks of existence. Circe’s family never saw what she could become. Power is important, though sometimes having none teaches one a greater lesson: nothing is worth having unless it has been earned. As such Circe wills herself into power as she discovers her affinity for witchcraft, especially the art of transformation.

Her family banish her from their company for her use of such a lowly art, and in doing so they set her free. She finds herself in her exile. On her island home she finds a paradise not a prison. She becomes one with nature and finds company with lions and wolves. Centuries pass, ages pass, and eventually some rather important characters come her way. She meets Hermes and Athena, Icarus and his farther Daedalus, and Odysseus, a man who changes her life and causes her to make a very powerful decision that leads this book into such an excellent conclusion.

“But in a solitary life, there are rare moments when another soul dips near yours, as stars once a year brush the earth. Such a constellation was he to me.”

Circe offers a huge story, a story that spans generations and includes many Greek heroes and gods. Such is the nature of godhood, of immortality. When life goes on forever many notable people cross one’s path. And despite the huge number of famous characters here, none of it felt forced: it all slotted perfectly into Circe’s life. There are so many myths that intertwine with Circe, like the story of the Minotaur and the fall of Icarus, though despite the famous nature of many of them they don’t for a second overshadow her.

She met Prometheus when she was young and decided that her life would not be the same as the other gods: she was going to be her own woman. And this is a book about her finding the most ultimate form of freedom. I could not recommend it more highly. I really liked The Song of Achilles though this surpassed it in every way. I really hope to see more from this author in the future.

Five fantastic stars


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Profile Image for Bibi.
1,288 reviews3,235 followers
June 21, 2019

How I wish Miller's Circe was a reimagining as opposed to a retelling
and I say this because there's little else about Greek mythology that isn't readily available online or at the library.

A reinterpretation, on the other hand, gives an author creative license to weave a uniquely extravagant and fantastical story ( Now I Rise did it perfectly) and perhaps one in which a lowly nymph attains great powers, transforms into a formidable sorceress who then proceeds to defy and defeat gods.

But, I digress.

If Miller's ultimate goal is to introduce Greek mythology to a new generation of readers, then, I think she succeeded. However, that's ALL she achieved.

This story about an inferior but immortal nymph called, Circe, who is a progeny of not one but TWO Titans -Helios and Oceanus- is decidedly underwhelming, trite, and overwrought with both too many characters yet very little story progression. Presumedly, the author had a checklist of events (and characters) that simply had to make an appearance in the story, even if the tangent was superfluous and unrelated:

Prometheus, and the banishment. Check
Scylla, the six-headed monster. Check
Pasiphae, Daedalus, the Bull of Poseidon, and the horror that was Minotaur. Check
Let's not forget, Odyssey.
And Hermes
And Athena
And many others who (please listen closely) WERE NOT REQUIRED TO MOVE THIS STORY FORWARD. Think I'm making this up?

Well, let's see what the story's about shall we?

1. Circe is so dull and uninteresting that
2. Pretty much everyone ignores her; that is, until...
3. She uses her magic to turn Scylla into the six-headed monster.
4. Consequently, she's exiled to an island
5. Where she at times turned unsavoury sailors into pigs
6. Eventually leaving the island only after having lived there for centuries.
7. The end.

All in all, I think if you're new to mythology then this is for you; but even then I'd recommend reading Greek Mythology: A Captivating Guide to the Ancient Gods, Goddesses, Heroes, and Monsters instead.
Profile Image for Yun.
521 reviews21.7k followers
November 18, 2022
"Next time you're going to defy the gods, do it for a better reason."
Circe has always known that she does not belong. Though she is a goddess born to the almighty sun god Helios, she has never desired power nor indulged in vanity and cruelty the way her family does. They, in turn, have never ceased to remind her that she is the lesser daughter of greater sires. So when she displays an affinity for witchcraft and is exiled to a remote island, she jumps at the chance. Here finally is the opportunity to live life on her own terms.

Told in her trademark lyrical prose, Madeline Miller weaves a tale that is at once familiar and brand new. Circe has always been a minor goddess in Greek mythology, but in this book, she shines bright as the star of her own tale. It was fascinating to see so many familiar events—Scylla, Jason and Medea, and the infamous Odysseus—made fresh again through her eyes.

You would think a story like this might feel remote and otherworldly and be hard to relate to. After all, I'm not a goddess (well, only in my head). But what's amazing about this story is how utterly relatable it really is. Miller manages to portray Circe in sharp relief, and she is a compelling figure. Her search for purpose and belonging, her loneliness, her mistakes and sacrifices, and ultimately her redemption, all coalesce to drive home her humanity and fragility. It makes for a mesmerizing tale, one I could not look away from.

In comparison to The Song of Achilles, I found both to be wonderful in their own right. Which you will enjoy more will depend on personal preference. For me, The Song of Achilles has a better arc just based on source material, with the story relentlessly building up to the Trojan War. Circe does not have the luxury of a huge war at its end, so the story ebbs and flows depending on the current narrative. That isn't to knock Circe, but rather speaks to Miller's masterful skill that she was able to make this story just as riveting as its predecessor.

In just two books, Madeline Miller has become a favorite of mine. It must not be easy to take a classic that has been told again and again, and to infuse something thrilling and new into it. Yet she does just that, shaping these myths into tales appealing for the modern audience, while still retaining all of their old-world charms. I cannot wait to see what she comes up with next.

See also, my thoughts on:
The Song of Achilles

Profile Image for Nilufer Ozmekik.
2,301 reviews43.9k followers
July 14, 2022
OH.MY. GOODNESS. WHY? WHY? And WHYYYYY did I wait too long to read this! BIPPPPPPPPPPPPPPPPPP(Right now I’m calling myself so nasty names! If I write them down, I’m sure my goodreads page will be closed  So after the bippp tone I’m coming back!)
I came back. Still pissed off myself. So what do we have? I don’t want to fill this page to describe how I devoured each page of it and how I literally fell in love with this book because words are not enough for me! Anything I write here will not be enough to show my adoration. They will be just mediocre fan woman expressions which are not meaningful enough to express my feelings. So I’m not gonna waste your time with my unnecessarily wordy review and irritate your eyes. No words can define this book. PERIOD!

This is fantastic retelling of Greek mythology and rare combination of magic, backstabbing characters, bloodshed, intrigue, power games. I’m so happy for my time management to create extra time to read this precious gem! (Working, reading, drinking, watching and irritating your husband takes too much time so I reduce my sleep time and now I got so many offers from Walking Dead casting calls to be their long term zombie extra!)

My top ten reads exceeded number ten, I have to formulate another plan to categorize my all time favorite books but I’m so sure this book already earned its place at the top of my list. I should reread it after a few months later.

I highly recommend you to listen to its audiobook. Perdita Weeks achieved a dreamy job . She perfectly captured the soul of the book and expressed this soul with her lyrical, effective voice that penetrates into our hearts.
Profile Image for Ayman.
209 reviews84.7k followers
November 9, 2022
count your fucking days madeline miller🥲

while reading this book, i forgot i was reading it. every page of Circe felt like reading something made in heaven. this goes down as one of my favorite books of all time.

this is the only story of Circe that i’ve deemed correct. everything else is inaccurate. this fierce, powerful, and truly feminist story is captivating, heart wrenching, and so utterly deep.

reading this book entirely through Circe’s pov was refreshing and the connection between reader and narrator felt palpable. reading how Circe took everything her family, men, and the world through at her and came back even stronger was the most satisfying thing to read about. how fiercely she loves her son was the most heart aching yet beautiful thing i’ve ever read.

this quickly became one of those books that you finish and then you just have to lay there for a moment (or ten) and take it all in. i’m still taking it all in. i’ve been staring at walls for hours now. i wish i had read this sooner; it’s now changed the trajectory of my life. if i could, i’d tattoo this entire book to my body. miller’s writing is enthralling and bewitching honestly.
Profile Image for chai ♡.
321 reviews156k followers
January 31, 2023
Do you ever just get mad because you’re spending your life paying rent and dreading the next impending catastrophe when you could have been a goddess living in an enchanted island unreachable by men and only seen every ten years? You live with ancient queens of myth and you're so much a part of each other it is like a second soul within your skin. You sing hymns, burn incenses, and make fragrant oils. You call birds to sing at your windows, fall asleep in patches of magical herbs, and sit by the hearth with a lioness, cheeks glowing with the flames' light. You are so far removed from the world's sorrows, so at peace and healthy. You live into 300 years, and in the space where legends and fairytales are gathering up words, your name is among them.

Yeah, so, anyways. Same.
Profile Image for chan ☆.
1,070 reviews51.3k followers
May 23, 2022
for $27 this book better clear my skin, water my crops, and eliminate all the stress i have ever had

buddy read with yusra!

Profile Image for NickReads.
461 reviews1,196 followers
September 13, 2021
Bruh my girl Circe really snapped. I can't believe she ended Helios in 3 sentences. Your fave could never.
Profile Image for Kat.
270 reviews80k followers
July 12, 2022
circe out here living my cottagecore dream
Profile Image for Felice Laverne.
Author 1 book3,226 followers
February 12, 2020
3.5 stars

Madeline Miller’s Circe is an epic that’s sweeping the nation today. Everywhere you turn, you see that magnificent cover (honestly, that cover work is DIVINE and I’ve had the MOST fun photographing it for the Bookstagram). Twitter and Instagram are as we speak packed with Circe references and Miller interviews and, within all of that, Circe has found itself wrapped in all of the fluff and buildup and publicity of a typical ultra-hyped, big-named publisher release. Let’s be serious—most of us LOVE these kinds of releases and all the hysteria involved, even if we shy away from actually reading the hyped release itself. It can be a book lover’s dream--a book with all the fanfare of a blockbuster, silver screen release. I, too, was swept up in the craze, yet another smash hit from the publisher who brought us fan favorites like Twilight and whom I once interned for in London. But, in the end, I couldn’t ride the Circe wave all the way through.

Let’s get one thing clear from the very start: Madeline Miller’s follow up to The Song of Achilles is an epic in the years spanned but not necessarily in the execution. To me, it read far more like a long story than an “epic.” When I think of that four-lettered word, I think of a novel that’s monumental and moving. I think of The Odyssey and sweeping sagas like A Song of Ice and Fire, even novels that are gripping and complex, long and treacherous as a Hajj like A Little Life. But Circe did not touch me in that way. In fact, there were moments—those times when the novel resorted to recounting the tales of the mythology we all know so well rather than putting the reader in the moment of these tales—where I was bored to skimming. In Circe, pages upon pages passed of one character telling another a “story” of others’ happenings, travels and wars: Telemachus telling Circe about Odysseus, Circe recounting the story of Hermes, and on and on. Who wants to hear second- and third-hand about the chronicles of these larger-than-life names within a novel that calls itself an “epic?” I’d rather feel and live the stories of these mortals and gods alike. Wouldn’t you?

Circe’s life is a true saga, and Miller’s research and background in the Classics shines through in this novel and serves her well. But, there are gaps between the breadth and notoriety of the mythology she incorporated here and the skill with which the novel was actually written. There is only so far that building a modern-day epic on the backs of known names and legends could go; Miller needed to take us the rest of the way to make Circe a contemporary wonder, to make this a saga all her own. This novel didn’t quite make it across that bridge for me.

Circe offered up a world full of color, a world of eternal life and leviathans, of clashing gods and witchcraft, all while tying in mythological tales that’ve been handed down for ages. Perhaps it’s only fitting, in that case, that it was overwrought with linguistic hyperbole—The sound was a piercing chaos, like a thousand dogs howling at once…She beat the cliff-side, howling her frustration. This novel was full of both drama and melodrama, only one of which is necessary for a sweeping epic. Yet, I had to appreciate the scale of story Miller told and the breadth of her knowledge in the Classics. Circe was a great story for sure, but I was never fully moved by how it was told. 3.5 stars.***


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Profile Image for Tharindu Dissanayake.
287 reviews557 followers
March 19, 2021
"Hail, mortal."
"Day upon patient day, you must throw out your errors and begin again."

'PERFECT' is the word I would've used if I had to say how I felt about Circe in one word. As luck would have it, I'm fortunate to share a little more than that. Still, I find myself being overly cautious when reviewing a Madeline Miller's book, as I can't bring myself to spoil this captivating book in the tiniest possible way for future readers.

"Watching Zeus and Helios negotiate is always good entertainment. Like two volcanoes trying to decide if they should blow."

With Circe, Miller selects another unique character - just like she did with TSoA - who isn't usually portrayed as a main character. True, she's a lot more popular than Patroclus in Greek Mythology, but until now, I only came across Circe as a villain, normally during a small part or a subplot of other stories. But I assure you, after finishing Circe, she will be one of your all time favorites characters. The story begins with the onset of Circe's life, and then flows through her different life stages using the author's mesmerizing narrative, allowing us to live through all her experiences. Events are described so delicately, and intricately, but never making reader feel the least bit bored. Everything is beautifully written, and you'll feel like being under a spell, fully immersed and devouring every word.

"They never listened. The truth is, men make terrible pigs."
"It is youth's gift not to feel its debts."

The book is divided between major events of Circe's life, each stage getting more interesting than the one before. However, even with all of them been quite interesting on their own, what made me fall in love with this book the most is not the plot itself, but the way Miller narrates everything. It's hard to explain, but there's just something about her style of writing, hooking the reader from very beginning, which has gotten even better than TSoA. You simply can't stop once started. A lot of the times, I found myself reading unusually slow, for I wanted to make sure I'm not missing even the smallest of details.

"That is one thing gods and mortals share. When we are young, we thing ourselves the first to have each feeling in the world."
"War has always seemed to me a foolish choice for men. Whatever they win from it, they will have only a handful of years to enjoy before they die."

For readers who are already familiar with Greek Mythology, portrayal of the Greek gods in Circe is going to be a little shocking. Some of the favorites gods are not going to have their usually interpretation from the viewpoint of Circe. I think it's only fair, as Circe never was a favorite when the stories were about the Greek Gods. On the contrary, I believe it makes things far more interesting.

"Of all the mortals on the earth, there are only a few the gods will ever hear of. Consider the practicalities. By the time we learn their names, they are dead."

And finally, I believe we have to give the author credit for selecting these amazing vantage points, to view parts of Greek mythology in very original ways. When comparing with TSoA, for me, Circe felt far better, and improved in everyway. So even if you weren't a fan of TSoA, don't miss reading Circe: you're missing out on a lot!. This unforgettable 'autobiography' now has a spot on my all time favorites. And I hope they'll keep on coming the author...

"In a solitary life, there are rare moments when another soul dips near yours, as stars once a year brush the earth. Such a constellation was he to me."

"I felt that pleasure the bards sing of so often: homecoming."
Profile Image for Jeffrey Keeten.
Author 3 books248k followers
May 15, 2019
”It was true what Hermes said. Every moment mortals died, by shipwreck and sword, by wild beasts and wild men, by illness, neglect, and age. It was their fate, as Prometheus had told me, the story that they all shared. No matter how vivid they were in life, no matter how brilliant, no matter the wonders they made, they came to dust and smoke. Meanwhile every petty and useless god would go on sucking down the bright air until the stars went dark.”

 photo Prometheus_Adam_Louvre_zpslp4dgqgt.jpg
Sculpture by Nicolas-Sébastien Adam in the Louvre.

Meeting Prometheus in chains, very briefly, before he was taken to the mountain side to begin his punishment had a profound impact on Circe. He had given man fire, and in the process had angered the Gods. He was condemned by Zeus to have an eagle rip his liver from his body each day and eat it over and over again for all eternity. Mortals paid attention to the Gods more when they experienced more suffering. Fire reduced their offerings to the Gods. One might say that fire made them need the Gods less.

Gods are fickle, childish creatures in need of constant reassurance.

Circe was a daughter of Helios. ”At my father’s feet, the whole world was made of gold. The light came from everywhere at once, his yellow skin, his lambent eyes, the bronze flashing of his hair. His flesh was hot as a brazier, and I pressed as close as he would let me, like a lizard to noonday rocks. My aunt had said that some of the lesser gods could scarcely bear to look at him, but I was his daughter and blood, and I stared at his face so long that when I looked away it was pressed upon my vision still, glowing from the floor, the shining walls and inlaid tables, even my own skin.”

She was the oldest daughter of the nymph Perse, and she was quickly followed by three siblings. When Zeus discovered they were all witches, he ordered Helios to slake his lust elsewhere. Maybe that was when Helios started turning himself into a bull and fucking his herd of precious cows. I’m not sure if that was bestiality or if it deserved some new moniker to describe such perversity.

 photo Circe_zpsxwbo0s0j.jpg
Painting of Circe by Joseph Herrin

Circe could never win the approval of her father because she was simply not as beautiful as she should be. Her voice was too thin, like a mortals, and her chin was too sharply made. When I looked at a picture of the Roosevelt family with all those attractive features, broad shoulders, and waspish waists, Eleanor Roosevelt stood out. She was Circe amongst all that beauty. In a normal family, attractive attributes could be noticed about Eleanor, but standing in the midst of the Roosevelts she was a flower with too few petals.

Circe’s siblings and cousins made her life a godly hell. They lived forever, and spite and vindictiveness were the slings and arrows of idle hands. She was lonely and made more lonely by the fact that no God would marry her, and mortals were simply not good enough for the daughter of Helios.

She was discovering that she had powers. The very witchcraft that made the Gods shift uneasily in their thrones. She could transform an iris into a rose or a bee into a mouse. Then she met the mortal fisherman Glaucos. What she does to him confirmed all the fears that the Olympians had trembled over before. Her powers were a wellspring not yet beginning to geyser.

Oh, and she turned the bitchy Scylla into a more representative version of herself.


Circe was banished to the island of Aiaia.

*Sigh*. Perpetually misunderstood.

I liked the way Madeline Miller tied in Circe’s encounter with Prometheus, who sacrificed eternal torment for humanity, and what would turn out to be her lifetime fascination with mortals. Chicks dig scars, and Circe was no exception. After growing up with Gods whose skin, despite what hazards are encountered, remained unblemished, those scars on mortals were fascinating to her because they told the story of their lives in every livid slash and puncture. They might have worn their scars on their skin, but Circe bore hers on her soul. She wanted to help mortals, but found that usually when she tried to help, she made things worse. Not that there weren’t bobbles in her relationship with mortals. After all, she did spend many years turning them into pigs, but then she was only bringing to light the least attractive part of their inner selves.

She may have loved the mortal Odysseus the most, which brought her into conflict with: ”She struck the room, tall and straight and sudden-white, a talon of lightning in the midnight sky. Her horse-hair helmet brushed the ceiling. Her mirror armor threw off sparks. The spear in her hand was long and thin, its keen edge limned in firelight. She was burning certainty, and before her all the shuffling and strained dross of the world must shrink away. Zeus’ bright and favorite child, Athena.”

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Odysseus might have been the cleverest man of his generation, but Circe would have had to be even more clever as she harnessed what power she had to outwit a God that wished to have Odysseus at all cost, but also wished to bring harm to Circe’s son, as well.

A wonderful, reimagining of an ancient tale that was deftly brought to life by the assured, clear, precise writing style of a gifted writer and researcher. Don’t tarry any longer. Experience the pleasure of epic triumph and tragedy spun in the threads of Daedalus’s loom and wrapped in the magic that only Circe could conjure.

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Profile Image for Miranda Reads.
1,589 reviews157k followers
April 22, 2021

“You have always been the worst of my children,” he said. “Be sure to not dishonor me.”
“I have a better idea. I will do as I please, and when you count your children, leave me out.”
Circe was always an odd child and she became an even odder adult.

It was clear from her earliest years that she had power but nothing compared to her father nor was she nearly as vicious as her mother.
You threw me to the crows, but it turns out I prefer them to you.
After years of cruelty, she discovers what she does have power - witchcraft - and the Gods are not pleased.
I will not be like a bird bred in a cage, I thought, too dull to fly even when the door stands open.
And so she discovers the greatest power of all laid within her the entire time...itching to get out and wreak havoc across the world.

Essentially, bits worked and other bits didn't.

I tried really, really hard to like this book but there was just too many bits that didn't work for me.

For the bits that worked:

I did really like how the author breathed life into these myths.

So many times I pick up a Greek mythology book and I'm puzzled by the actions of the gods and goddesses.

They just don't make logical sense but when I read the myths I was familiar with, I was nodding along with Circe's logic and actions.

For the bits that didn't work:

For the longest time, I had difficulties articulating why I couldn't get into this book.

Whenever I reread a tale that I knew involving Circe (i.e. when Homer's Odyssey gets to her island house), I could connect to the book and I was LOVING what was happening on the page.

But, if I hit a myth that I didn't know about ahead of time...I felt so...apathetic.

It was strange. Cause I could go from being 110% INTO this book to -10%. I don't think I've yo-yo'ed like that in years, if ever.

I think, that without knowing the myth that I had a hard time following what was happening. Figuring out who was who and what event was occurring on screen.

And all of that went away as soon as I had a decent baseline of knowledge to frame my interpretation of Circe-the-book's version of events.

All in all, this book wasn't terrible but I'd definitely recommend being a familiar fan of Circe's tale before picking this one up.

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Profile Image for Emily (Books with Emily Fox).
551 reviews60.4k followers
April 28, 2018
If you like mythology, you need to read this book!

Personally it's not even something I'm a fan of but I couldn't put this... audiobook down. The narrator did a great job and her voice was quite relaxing. I ended up finishing the book in 3 days and taking detour on my walks just to be able to listen to it more!

Would recommend.

Now I need to go finish The Song of Achilles...
Profile Image for Petrik.
687 reviews45.9k followers
May 20, 2020
4.5/5 stars

Madeline Miller is now on my must-read author list. I can’t wait for her next work already.

I guess I can officially say with no reservation that I’m a fan of Madeline Miller’s books now. Many readers have raved about her books for almost a decade now, compared to them, I definitely can be considered a new fan of Madeline Miller. I finished reading The Song of Achilles almost two months ago, and despite my previous hesitancy—I talked about why in my review of the book—to read that book, it blew me away how good it was. Right upon finishing it, I knew I had to give Circe a read as well, and although I slightly loved The Song of Achilles more, I cannot deny that Circe is another incredible book by Madeline Miller.

“It is a common saying that women are delicate creatures, flowers, eggs, anything that may be crushed in a moment's carelessness. If I had ever believed it, I no longer did.”

When I was starting The Song of Achilles, I was afraid that my knowledge of Achilles and the Trojan War would diminish my experience on Miller’s take on the story. As it turns out, knowing about Achilles and how his story ended actually deepened my enjoyment of reading that book. When I was going to start Circe, it was the other way around; I knew about Odysseus and his journey, but I admittedly remembered very little about Circe’s tale. In fact, what I remembered about Circe was only that Odysseus met her, and she also turned Odysseus’ men into pigs, that’s it. I was afraid that my lack of knowledge about Circe would actually decrease my enjoyment; there was no need for any worry, after all. Circe is beautiful, empowering, and well-written.

“Humbling women seems to me a chief pastime of poets. As if there can be no story unless we crawl and weep.”

Circe’s characterization is simply wonderful. It was easy for me to find myself invested in her story, and the more I read about Miller’s take on her character, the more I grew to care about her. She’s a kind-hearted and innocent individual who has to learn things the hard way but never let the difficulties, betrayals, and loneliness she faced throughout her life changed her core virtues. Her character’s development was gradually developed. This is also what made Circe such a compelling character to read; she’s powerful, and I’m speaking this not just in terms of her literal power as a witch, but it’s her perseverance, defiance, and strong mentality that I found to be inspiring. The cruel events that have happened to Circe could’ve easily led her to think that all male is evil, but this didn’t happen to her; Circe judged people, regardless of their genders and affiliations, equally through their actions. Good people receive kindness, bad people deserve retribution.

“You have always been the worst of my children,” he said. “Be sure to not dishonor me.”
“I have a better idea. I will do as I please, and when you count your children, leave me out.”

Greek mythology—along with Norse and Japanese mythologies—are some of my favorite myths to read about. I loved reading Miller’s Greek retellings. After reading The Song of Achilles, it somehow felt comfortable to me to be reading another standalone story by Miller within these eras. It was great to witness Scylla and its origin; Prometheus and his torture; Daedalus and Icarus; Odysseus’ and his family; the Greek gods behaving as childish as possible, and many more. These, and heroic actions, are all the kinds of things that made Greek mythologies fascinating to read, and Miller continues to nail the executions. The part with the Trygon’s Tail was something that I haven’t heard of; this could be Miller’s own rendition on this story section, and it fits the narrative she tells.

“You cannot know how frightened gods are of pain. There is nothing more foreign to them, and so nothing they ache more deeply to see.”

Both The Song Achilles and Circe has proved that Madeline Miller is a blessing for literature and Greek mythologies. Feel free to consider me a fan of her books now, I heard that her next novel will be about Pandora, and I’m super excited for it. Honestly speaking, though, I loved reading Miller’s beautiful prose so much that I don’t think I’d mind if she decides to retell everything in Greek mythologies with her creativity and writing.

“But in a solitary life, there are rare moments when another soul dips near yours, as stars once a year brush the earth. Such a constellation was he to me.”

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Profile Image for Lisa of Troy.
431 reviews4,213 followers
August 26, 2023
Unpopular Opinion

Circe is no The Song of Achilles, and I really, really did not like it. Circe is a lesser god in Greek mythology, and she bumps into other gods and mortals along the way.

There are many people who just loved this book, people for whom I have the utmost respect. However, this book just isn’t for me.

First, this is a very character-driven book, and I do not like character-driven books. What does that really mean? Most books are either character-driven or plot-driven. In plot-driven books, the reader has a general idea where the book is heading. The book usually leads up to a big showdown or reveal. In character-driven books, the book focuses more on one character, and they share their life.

Second, this book has far too many characters. One set of characters seem to visit Circe for a day, and then they move on. Ok. Who cares? I can’t care about characters that I know for one day. And I especially am not invested in mass numbers of characters. The author went too wide and not deep enough with her character development.

Third, this author did too much telling and not enough showing. Because of the max influx of characters, the characters are just high-level describing their experiences. This style of writing just didn’t result in an emotional pull.

As a result, I never felt connected or invested in this book. That being said, I really enjoyed Madeline Miller’s book, The Song of Achilles, and I do appreciate her efforts at modernizing the language of Greek mythology.

2023 Reading Schedule
Jan Alice in Wonderland
Feb Notes from a Small Island
Mar Cloud Atlas
Apr On the Road
May The Color Purple
Jun Bleak House
Jul Bridget Jones’s Diary
Aug Anna Karenina
Sep The Secret History
Oct Brave New World
Nov A Confederacy of Dunces
Dec The Count of Monte Cristo

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Profile Image for jessica.
2,555 reviews35.5k followers
November 16, 2019
in the house of miller, goddess of written word and mightiest of storytellers, a masterpiece was born.

again, i am blown away at the beauty that is madeline millers writing. her words have a way of invoking a sense of delicate peace in my heart. i read her stories and it fills that longing for something more. circe was an absolute delight from start to finish, and i cant express the extent of my gratitude for something so breathtakingly compelling to have been created and shared with the world.

5 stars
Profile Image for Cindy.
407 reviews116k followers
January 2, 2019
It’s difficult for me to rate this objectively, since I am unfamiliar and uninterested in Greek mythology, and I can’t fault a story that’s staying true to the source material which I had no interest in the first place. As a retelling, I’m sure Circe deserves 4 to 5 stars; it’s well-written with beautiful prose and has some good feminist themes. But I’ve decided to go with my personal rating, since that won’t affect the overall strong reviews it’s received. When I view this as a standalone story, Circe starts off strong with a lot of potential to subvert the misogynistic tropes of Greek mythology. The summary makes it seem like an epic story of a goddess standing up for herself, defying her family, and claiming her individuality. The actual results were lacking for my expectations: the plot was quite slow in which she spends majority of the time on her island and having sexual conquests with various men that visit her. There is a lot of name-dropping for other gods and mortals that I did not care for because they did not enhance the story in my eyes. I wish this had been a reimagining instead so that the feminist themes could have been explored more deeply; I would have loved to see the handmaids on her island play a more prominent role rather than read about her sexual conquests with other men, because the concept of an island filled with women who have been exiled by the gods is super interesting and would allow them to reclaim their own power and individuality. I also wish I had seen more resistance from Circe to her family, since the beginning of the story made it seem like she was going to be the black sheep that would overthrow them and made her a great character to root for in that aspect. I felt lukewarm about the story overall because the hype and raving reviews made it seem like an amazing feminist story, but those opportunities were not seized for the sake of staying exact to the source material. Otherwise, I think this would have been a great chance to redefine the genre with an updated reimagining.
Profile Image for María.
144 reviews3,088 followers
January 1, 2020
Otro libro encumbrado que me decepciona terriblemente. Eso sí, la campaña de marketing ha sido de diez. Circe se vendió, por mucho que a la gente le pese, como libro feminista. Así circulaba en las redes, así lo decían algunos booktubers y así figuraba en todas las entrevistas que le hicieron a la autora. Esa es la realidad; se vendió como libro feminista.

El problema es que el machismo es algo enraizado en la sociedad. Intentas escribir un libro feminista y al final acabas plasmando tópicos, clichés y machismo por todas partes. ¿Cómo es posible? Porque es lo que mamamos desde que somos niñas, niños, niñes. Si no te detienes a pensarlo detenidamente, a analizar cada paso y preguntarte por la misoginia simplemente te equivocas. Y es lo que le ha pasado a esta autora. Cosa que no le ocurrió con La canción de Aquiles, ¿por qué? Pues porque Aquiles es un hombre.

¿Qué tenemos aquí? Un libro bajo la etiqueta "feminista" que no cumple lo que promete. Palabras textuales "una hechicera, una mujer que descubre su poder". ¿Seguro? Lo único que he leído en 400 páginas es el desfile de hombres alrededor del cual Circe orbita: su padre, su hermano, Prometeo, Telémaco, Odiseo, Telégono... Todos ellos engrandecidos por un sinfín de épicas leyendas y adjetivos positivos. ¿Y las mujeres de Circe? Todas son bellas, malas y ruines. Muy crueles entre sí, ¿sororidad? ¿Dónde? Me dirán que la mitología no destaca por ser feminista y cielos, creo que es cierto. Pero es que la autora dijo que Circe sería una REESCRITURA de su historia. ¿Entonces? Algún día comprenderemos que las mujeres no orbitamos alrededor de los hombres, que tenemos vidas propias. Aunque nos hayan hecho creer lo contrario. No somos la madre de, la hija de, la esposa de, la amante de. Simplemente SOMOS. Y estamos hartas de que definan nuestras vidas con base en los hombres con los que nos relacionamos.

¿Y si Circe no se hubiese vendido con la etiqueta "feminista"? Supongamos que no usaron ese reclamo. Supongamos que la autora no se subió al carro del feminismo como han hecho tantos. Supongamos que es una historia sin esa etiqueta. Bueno, para mí seguiría siendo una historia sosa y aburrida.

¿Que si habrá vídeo? Por supuesto. Aunque sea la más odiada y repudiada tengo que decirlo todo.

P.D. Huid de todo lo que se venda bajo la etiqueta "feminista", en mi experiencia ese tipo de libros suelen ser los menos feministas que he leído en mi vida.
Profile Image for Matthew.
1,219 reviews8,983 followers
July 23, 2019
Circe is a fine book. I can easily see why many give it 5 stars. And, I imagine that it is very popular with people who enjoy mythology. I am only going 3 stars on this because, for me, it just really didn’t hold my interest. But, I will say, I am definitely in the minority on this, so you may want to take my opinion with a grain of salt and go ahead a give it a try.

I thought the first half (or so) was great! 5 stars all the way – very engaging, active, fascinating, etc. Learning about Circe’s early “life” and all the people she interacted with was very cool. Many of the events were very familiar to me and I kept having “I didn’t realize Circe was a part of this!” moments. I hope if you do give it a try, you find yourself saying, “AH-HA!” a lot.

But, then things came to a screeching halt. About halfway through until there was about 5% of the book left, not much really happened. I kept thinking that the adventure and story was just taking a break and would get going again, but it was more of a permanent break. As I previously mentioned being in the minority when it comes to my feelings on this book, I am sure many will have no clue why I felt this way. But, for me, it just flat-lined.

If the book had kept things going the same the whole way through, I would have gone 5 stars. Maybe Circe’s life ran out of 5-star material at a certain point so the author did her best to work with what she had. I will emphasize again that, in this case, I don’t want my 3 stars to deter you. There are other times that I would stress proceeding with caution if I give a book 3 stars, but I don’t feel very passionate about that in this case. Give it a shot and come back and tell me how wrong I am! I hope you do!
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