Book Review: Circe

Circe is a book written by Madeline Miller, who you may remember from her other well-known book, The Song of Achilles. Similar to The Song of Achilles, the book is a retelling of figures in Greek mythology, more accurately, minor figures in Greek mythology. The Song of Achilles featured the point of view of Patroclus, a relatively minor character that was featured in the Iliad and who not many people remember other than being Achilles’ lover, and in a similar vein, Circe is told from the view of the titular character, the sorceress Circe.

In case it’s been a while since you’ve read The Odyssey, allow me to refresh your memory. Circe was the sorceress in The Odyssey that Odysseus ended up where she turned his men into pigs and then informed him that he needed the help of a prophet who happened to be dead. Like Patroclus, Circe in The Odyssey is more of a minor character and in no way a main focal point.

Circe follows her throughout her life as we explore her immortality and how it differs from that of a mortal. The daughter of Helios, born as what she says is a Nymph, the word for what she was not having existed yet. We follow her and how she develops in her life, her curiosities about mortals, pain, her ideas of love, and her lovers throughout her life. The relationships that she has with her frankly terrible and toxic family. The strained relationship with her sister Pasiphaë compared to the somewhat more healthy relationship with her brother Aeëtes. The relationship she has with her father and how she craves his approval and his father, and the non-existent bond between her and her mother, who always favored her siblings over her.

Now, I went into the book expecting it to be similar to The Song of Achilles. I wasn’t entirely sure how that would work out, but I remembered loving that book so I had assumed I would love Circe in the same way. However, I realized fairly quickly that these books were not similar in the slightest. Outside of the writing style that is very clear and unique to Madeline Miller, you really couldn’t tell that these books were told by the same person. I had gone into Circe half expecting it to also be a love story in a similar vein to that of Achilles and Patroclus. I had assumed that Circe would focus on the relationship that she had with Odysseus and that would be the main point of the book. Then, I saw how thick the book was. In The Odyssey, the segments with Circe were not very long. It would be difficult to stretch the little segments there were of her into 416 pages. The book is slowly paced and it follows Circe throughout her early childhood as well as her time on the island she was exiled on. At first, the slowness of the story was dull to me and I had to put it down and pick it up again multiple times, I thought I would never be able to get through it.

However, around the time when Circe is cultivating her magic, having been driven by her love for a mortal man and desiring to make him into a god so they could be together forever, that’s when the story starts picking up. Really when she starts to explore and develop her magic, that’s when the story starts to get interesting. I couldn’t put down the book after that. It was so exciting and I just couldn’t wait to see what would happen next. At least that was my experience, I know it’ll differ from person to person.

All in all, Circe is a beautifully written novel, and the vivid imagery, the descriptions of different characters as well as settings can fully immerse you into the story. Dare I say, it was even more beautifully written than The Song of Achilles. I know that it ranks above that book in my ranking, and if I were to give it a rating it would get a solid 9/10, simply because the start was a bit boring.