“You know I have stood against Athena. I have walked in the blackest deeps. You cannot guess what spells I have cast, what poisons I have gathered to protect myself against you, how your power may rebound on your head. Who knows what is in me? Will you find out?”– Circe to Helios when she demands the end to her exile.
I have read Madeline Miller’s debut novel “The Song of Achilles” earlier this year and really enjoyed it, giving it 3 stars on Goodreads. I liked it but thought that it could have been improved on is went into Circe thinking I was going to have the same opinion. I was blown away by the improvement in this novel, especially when it came to her writing as her writing style is what made me struggle with her first book.
Circe is all about the life of the famous witch of Greek mythology. The book details her life from her birth to the end. You see her life intertwine with other well-known characters and myths and you see another side to the somewhat evil witch.
POSITIVES: Circe – She is incredible. I have never seen any other character go through such a strong character arc than her. We see her start off as a meek and fragile nymph who tries what she can to please or gain attention from her family. She is a nobody in the world of the nymphs’ and Titans but all that changes and by the end she is this wise, caring and strong witch who exudes power and kindness. Probably the most notable of scenes where we see this development was in the final conversation between her and her father Helios. She threatens him and defies him and doesn’t shrink away from him when he gets angry. This is a complete juxtaposition from her character at the beginning of the novel who literally knealt at his feet.
Descriptive Writing – The way Madeline writes is incredibly descriptive, she paints a picture for you with her words so you can visualise characters, conversations and locations. Most notable scenes of intense descriptions included:
- When Helios burns Circe for disobeying him in front of the other gods.
- Glaucos’ transformation.
- The Minotaurs birth.
- Scylla’s death.
- Any scene describing Aiaia.
I really enjoyed Madeline’s descriptions as I felt I could place myself within the story and watch the scenes unfold as if I was there, rather than a god watching from above.
Dialogue – I loved all the dialogue in this story, each character had a different way of talking compared to others. The nymphs had a more sing-songy way of talking which fits there disposition very well. Character’s like Daedalus, Odysseus and Telemachus were very straight talking and logical while characters like Pasiphae, Hermes and Athena had more evil undertones. When you put these different ways of speaking together it makes for incredibly interesting dialogue, to the point where I couldn’t stop reading as I wanted to see it how it ended. Scenes such as:
- Pasiphae and Circe’s confrontation on Crete.
- Athena and Circe’s confrontation on Aiaia over Telegonus.
- Odysseus and Telegonus’ conversation on Ithaca.
- Daedalus and Circe’s conversation at Daedalus’ home.
- Athena and Telemachus’ conversation on Aiaia.
Episodic Structure – By far my favourite part of the story was the episodic structure to the narrative. Since this story covers the entirety of Circe’s life, I felt it was split into parts. They all focused on important moments of her life whether it introduced meaningful relationships or made her grow as a person. You could easily turn this story into a 10 part mini-series on Netflix or the BBC as it so structurally sound.
- Part 1 – Childhood. This shows Circe’s upbringing, giving an insight into her life as a nymph. You meet her father, mother, brothers and sister and see out of place she feels in this world. We also have a notable scene where she comforts Prometheus during the beginning of his torture, showing off her kind side and how she is unlike everybody else.
- Part 2 – Glaucos. Here is where we meet the first love interest of many to walk into her life and the first signs of her sorcery. Within this part, we see her turn her first love into a God so she can be with him forever, acts out in jealousy when he plans to marry another, turning that nymph into one of the most famous Greek monsters of all time. This scene is important as it shows her raw strength with magic and is also the catalyst for the rest of the novel.
- Part 3 – Exile. Here we see her sentenced to exile on Aiaia. This part is important as we see Circe begin to hone her powers to a more refined art. We also see the introduction of her second male love interest the god Hermes, who is an important character throughout the novel.
- Part 4 – Daedalus and the Minotaur. Daedalus is an important character in Circe’s life. He leaves a mark on her forever showing Circe there are men out there that do her no harm. Also, we see the origin story of the Minotaur showing the birth and the first few weeks of his life. Circe plays an important part in this myth.
- Part 5 – Medea and the sending of the difficult daughters. Here we see another myth overlay with Circe’s story. We see her warn Medea about Jason and also we see her form the image that she is well-known for which is the witch women with the pretty nymphs.
- Part 6 – The Pigs. Circe is probably most well-known for her spell of turning men into pigs and here we see the reason why she did it.
- Part 7 – Odysseus. Probaly the most well-known part of Circe’s story. It’s her stint with Odyyseus. They learn a lot from each other during the 2 seasons in which they keep each other company and we learn about the story through her eyes.
- Part 8 – Telegonus. Her son. This whole part is about Circe dealing with motherhood and mortality. We see her best her brother who is the more powerful of her siblings, defeat one of the old gods and stand up against Athena herself; showing how powerful she truly is
- Part 9- Telemachus and Penelope. This scene is important as it tells the story of after Odysseus’ death. We see her say goodbye to her son, meet the man who would become her lifelong partner and the woman who will take over Aiaia.
- Part 10 – End. Here we see the end of many things. Scylla dies, Circe’s exile ends, Circe cuts all ties with her father, she leaves Aiaia in the capable hands of Penelope and ends her immortality opting for a mortal life.
I only have one negative which is a bit similar to what I said in The Song of Achilles review. Her sentence structure was abit all over the place. She opted for a lot of short sentences which at times I felt stopped the flow of the story and made it feel jilted and would take you out of the narrative.
Overall: It was a spellbinding book that deserves 5 stars and a name in my favourite books of all time list. I loved Circe as a character, the episodic structure of character defining moments and incredible dialogue.
“All my life, I have been moving forward, and now I am here.”– Circe
The Song of Achilles review. https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/2365241002?book_show_action=false&from_review_page=1