Friday, April 17, 2020

Freeform Friday: Guest Review by Cristina Bray; Circe - Madeline Miller

Summary: 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. (Summary and pic from

My Review:  I was super skeptical of this book when I began reading. Mostly because my knowledge of Greek Mythology is seriously lacking. I’m embarrassed to admit I had to Google how to pronounce her name (Sur-See—BTdubs). I was probably reading a Harry Potter book in 8th grade instead of listening to my English teacher (sorry Mrs. Ross) when she taught us about Greek Mythology. My knowledge of the Greeks was all from the movie Troy *eye roll* up until this point. I’ve never read Homer’s Iliad or The Odyssey *gasp*. Some of you may be face palming so hard, but all of this is just to say you don’t need a degree in classical literature to understand and appreciate this book. Not only do I appreciate it, I’m completely enamored with Madeline Miller’s interpretation of Circe. While Circe is the center of the book, I came to learn about several different characters in Greek Mythology. I’m currently ruined for other books for the moment. If you need me, I’ll be in a rabbit hole of everything mythology.

The life of Circe spans centuries. Her story arc is brilliant. She goes from a young, weak girl to a great and powerful woman! She starts as a lowly nymph, with an awful human voice, born from the Titan sun god Helios and nymph mother Perce. Whilst her family members bask in their talents and glory, Circe is an embarrassment and certainly at the bottom of the totem pole. She is at the mercy of all the Gods (who, by the way, are all horrible). She has compassion (which others prey on and see as a weakness). This leads her to act in secret defiance and rebellion against the Gods (Prometheus cameo). Using plants and herbs and sheer force of will, she finds witchcraft. She is ultimately banished from her family and home to an island, by Zeus and her father.

On Aeaea, her island, Circe can really hone in on her witchy skills, without the oppression and judgement of her family. She grows and matures. Becomes total tough chick. Ms. Independent. Ms. Self Sufficient. In true Beyonce fashion of course. She walks amongst lions and wolves she has tamed. Outside influences come and go from her island. When harmed, she gets her revenge, turning mortal sailors into pigs.

She’s had her fair share of lovers by this point, none of whom cause her to stay up crying at night over, with the exception of her first love (Glaucos). First loves make everyone ridiculous though, am I right?! Circe is no exception—she ends up turning his new girlfriend into a sea monster (Scylla). Oh well, it happens. Most men are passing ships in the sea after that. Odysseus is no different. She loves him but knows their time together is fleeting. He’s got a devoted wife (Penelope) and child (Telemachus), and she’s stuck on an island. He is gone by the spring, and she is pregnant without his knowledge. Just like that another phase of Circe’s life begins.

Madeline Miller describes the pregnancy and motherhood journey in a way that nearly tore me apart. It’s messy and exhausting, even for this immortal bad ass witch woman! Just when you think she could not get any tougher, she walks into the depths of the ocean, willing to endure the pain of all the universe (something which no one else had ever dared to endure), for the safety of her beloved child. ***Spoiler Alert*** After all of that, he (Telegonus) leaves the nest! WTF! Come on. I’m pretty far away from that with my child (7 years old), do they really do that?! Alas, I guess they must.

By this point, girlfriend is beyond wise. Powerful. Patient. Clever. Is it enough to face off with the Gods who still torment her? Athena Goddess of War? Or Helios, her sun god father? Scylla, the water monster of her own creation?

This book is all about the journey of growth for Circe. I’ve always been drawn to books with a powerful female lead. She has insecurities about herself, yes. She’s certainly not immune to pain or trials. She has regrets. Nevertheless, she still chooses to take on the universe—quite literally holding up the weight of the sky to protect those she loves. She is master of her own destiny. Who doesn’t love that?

My Rating: 5 Stars

For the sensitive reader: 
-Violence and sex, of course—it’s Greek mythology.
-PersephaĆ« (Circe’s sister) gives birth to the Minotaur—it’s graphic and crazy. His conception is even worse, which might be common knowledge, but it was a surprise to me.
-Circe is abused by sailors she tried to help. It doesn’t go into detail. And henceforth all shipwrecked sailors are turned into swine.
-In Greek mythos fashion, family trees are an interwoven tangled mess. I can’t say much more without spoiling the ending. But if you’ve made it to the ending, it doesn’t really matter.

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