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Circe by Madeline Miller

BOTTOM LINE: Well-written, exquisite detail, fantastic story

Genre: Historical Fiction; Fantasy
Publication Date: 10 April 2018
Source: Publisher via NetGalley

Synopsis from the Publisher:

“In the house of Helios, god of the sun and mightiest of the Titans, a daughter is born. But Circe is a strange child–not 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 the mortals she has come to love.

With unforgettably vivid characters, mesmerizing language and page-turning suspense, Circe is a triumph of storytelling, an intoxicating epic of family rivalry, palace intrigue, love and loss, as well as a celebration of indomitable female strength in a man’s world.”

My Thoughts: If anyone needs to look back to find out just how long men have feared strong women, one need look no farther than ancient Greece and the gods and goddesses worshipped. For every Athena, who struck fear into men and women and gods and goddesses alike, there are hundreds of minor goddesses described as lesser and therefore are considered minor to any narrative. Then there is Circe. As any good student of history and sociology knows, humans and gods fear different among all other attributes. Unfortunately, Circe is the embodiment of that fear, and her treatment at the hands of man and gods alike confirms how long men have tried to control and oppress women into minor roles.

As a mythology fan, there was no way I was going to be disappointed in Ms. Miller’s retelling of Circe’s famous story. However, in spite of the fact that I knew I was going to enjoy the story, I found myself utterly entranced at the world Ms. Miller created. She goes beyond the gods versus man situation. In fact, you quickly forget that Circe is a goddess given how realistic she is. Yes, she may never die and never face any sort of injury, yet her struggles are our struggles. She still faces the most brutal of crimes against women and must deal with the same shame and rage that millions of women endure every day after such attacks. She must prove herself in a world where women are minor, good for breeding and running a household. She faces abuse of every magnitude, isolation, doubt, and worst of all, indifference. She is so feared that her own father and uncle banish her to a deserted island for eternity. Her story is the blueprint for every strong woman who comes after her, just as the men who persecute her are for any man who has found a way to subjugate a woman in some fashion.

The success of Circe hinges on Ms. Miller’s ability to make commonplace beings and events that were not, something at which she succeeds. She makes the mythical normal, the magic commonplace, and the extraordinary mundane. This allows us to focus less on Circe’s eternal lifespan and more on her actions. I mentioned earlier that it is easy to forget she is a goddess, and this is a good thing for it allows you to become her, to experience her pain and humiliation, and celebrate her triumphs. In addition, Ms. Miller puts as much effort in establishing the backdrop as she does her characters so that you get an island that you can easily visualize, feel its breezes, smell the various scents, and hear the sounds the permeate the silence. The ocean becomes something to be feared and simultaneously pitied. Her mountains are soothing friends. Circe’s story is nothing without the nature aspect of it, which she uses to create her magic. Hence, the fact that nature takes on a life of its own and becomes something more than a backdrop against which the rest of the story unfolds fleshes out her story and makes it a three-dimensional one.

I knew I would enjoy it, but I tore through Circe faster than I expected. I did this not just because Circe is such a fascinating character nor solely because Ms. Miller does such a good job of bringing her to life. It is the amalgamation of everything which caused me to voraciously read this particular novel. It is the combination of Circe and her island and the writing and the gods and goddesses and heroes and monsters. It is the addition of magic and pain and power and sacrifice. It is inclusion of loss and love and fear and doubt and the human experience. That is what makes Circe such an impressive story.

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