Ooooh Greek Mythology. I love you so. Mythology in general has been one of those things that I have been fascinated with for my entire life.
And Madeline Miller…. well, let’s just say that Song of Achilles had me in goddamn tears despite knowing how The Illiad ended. It is quite easily one of my very favorite audiobooks ever.
And so of course I was going to read Circe. Of course I was. That it is the r/fantasy Book of the Month is awesome, but I’d have read it anyway. 😀
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.
Odysseus, son of Laertes, the great traveler, prince of wiles and tricks and a thousand ways. He showed me his scars, and in return he let me pretend that I had none.
Not to spoil something from actually ancient literature for you, but for those unaware, Circe was the witch goddess whom, in The Odyssey, turned Odysseus’ men into pigs, became his lover, was convinced to turned the men back from pigs, and then had them all chill out on her sweet, sweet island of Aeaea for a year before giving them a prophecy about an Underworld journey they needed to take, and then seeing them on their merry way. Not a minor character in that story, but not the focus of it.
This, like Song of Achilles is a retelling of Greek myth, and one of Homer’s epics, though not as much the Odyssey as the life of one of the characters that features prominently in it. This is the story of Circe, the daughter of the Sun god/titan Helios and the nymph Perse. For years Circe lives among the gods as a powerless nymph. She is curious about many things, mortals included, and her curiosity for one in particular leads to something more than that. In her attempts to get around a vow not to lie with her mortal crush, she ends up turning him into a god, something that no other gods are known to be able to do. Then, she sort of… accidentally turns her rival for his affections into a horrible monster (who also features prominently in the Odyssey). This is when Circe learns that actually, she has powers that make her a witch. That’s something new among the gods. They can all do god things. But magic witchy things? That’s new.
Turns out that the gods, specifically Zeus, is not a huge fan of new magical powers that can negatively affect other gods and turn them into horrible monsters and what have you. And so Circe is exiled to the aforementioned island of Aeaea to live a solitary life.
She’s not as solitary as you’d think. She does get the occasional visitor, such as Hermes, who comes to hang out for a while (and by hang out, I obviously mean deserted island booty calls. This is Greek mythology after all. >.>), and so on and so forth until… you know… the big visitor in her story shows up, but Circe finds that she enjoys her solitary life. She learns her craft, and she makes friends of the wildlife. She becomes really good at what she does, and as such is called in when there is need of witchcraft.
Figures that I know from myth make appearances all over the place, and I quite liked it. Even during her exile, Circe comes across all sorts of people. She is brought to her sister’s side to help her give birth to a creature who is quite prominent in the story of Theseus, and while she is there she meets an artisan and inventor named Daedalus, and his son Icarus. And then, yes, Odysseus and his sailors come to her island, and then leave, but they leave Circe less lonely than she was. In the end, she receives visitors that she was not expecting, and she must decide if they are there for nefarious purposes or not.
This story, like The Song of Achilles, was absolutely beautifully told, and once again, despite knowing most of what happens, still had the ability to surprise me, as I got a bit misty eyed at parts of it, and other parts made me smile, and others made me angry. I got engrossed in it immediately whenever I turned it on. There were characters I wanted so much to succeed, and characters that I wanted to fail horribly. These, as I said, being characters that I already know the stories of. That takes talent.
Perdita Weeks did such a fantastic job with the narration here. She has a pleasant sounding voice, and told Circe’s story very well. She gave the first person narration a really great voice. I could sit here for hours and listen to Circe’s story. Alas, I ended up mostly walking on the treadmill and listening to Circe’s story, so I guess it gets bonus points for actually getting me to exercise on a regular basis. 😀
I loved this book… but not quite as much as Song of Achilles, which is really kind of weird, because I liked the Odyssey way more than the Iliad. So it goes, I guess. 😀 5/5 stars!