Those who know me well know that I love mythology – and Greek mythology in particular. I’ve read the Greek myths in many iterations, but this was a delightfully fresh perspective which raised a multitude of ethical questions. There are no heroes or villains here.
For those not familiar with Greek mythology, Circe was a sorceress – or witch. She was the daughter of the titan Helios – who pulled the sun across the sky in his chariot – and his Oceanid nymph wife Perse. Circe’s witchcraft led to her exile on the island of Aiaid, where she most famously was visited by Odysseus on his way back from the Trojan war – she proceeded to turn his entire crew into swine. The novel Circe starts with her early life with Helios, Perse, and her siblings, and chronicles it through the circumstances of her exile and her life on the island. It follows many of the better-known myths around her interactions with mortals – Daedalus, Ariadne, Odysseus, Telemachnus – and immortals, dropping hints before each one is revealed that will delight those who can predict what’s coming. Miller takes some creative license in her interpretation but each myth is cleverly portrayed and, in many ways, elevated as the characters feel more fleshed out and real.
Circe comes across as childish and petulant but also thoughtful and incredibly self-aware. Her spoilt childhood didn’t prepare her for life as an exile, but it did foster her with a healthy resentment and distrust of other immortals. Her character development throughout the book is excellent and Miller does a great job at giving the reader insight into why Circe might have done everything she did.
My favourite part about Circe is how morally grey everyone is. Many of the characters do terrible things and make dreadful decisions, but they all have reasons and justification. There are no black and white good or bad characters, just those making decisions to best benefit them or their families. These are the complex characters that we need more of in fiction.
This is a slow starter. Being inside the head of the initially spoilt, self-centred Circe is far less interesting than the Circe we see at the end. It’s a book well worth persevering with beyond the first hundred pages – I promise it gets better, and the character arc wouldn’t be as complete without the dragging beginning.
Overall, this is a story about love, about dysfunctional family dynamics, about being different, about learning to love who you are not who others want you to be. It’s a story about morality and mistakes and the grey area between right and wrong. It’s beautifully and clearly written and improves the more you read of it.
Recommended for fans of mythology – including grown up Percy Jackson fans like me – but also for those who just enjoy reading books about complex characters and the area between good and bad.
Published by Bloomsbury
Hardback: 19th April 2018
Paperback: 1st April 2019