Book Review and Spoilers | Circe by Madeline Miller

This post follows the new series that I have recently started which includes a short summary or book plot if each book that I read. The main reason behind this is so that I can always go back and recall exactly what a book was about and a detailed description of all the events that took place without actually having to reread the entire book. I think this will especially help when a new book in a series comes out (after ages, might I add) since I find myself having to read the book before the new one all over again to properly understand what is happening. I’ve never come across any posts like this before and I’m sure I’m not the only one struggling with this problem, so here it is! You can also check out my last similar post on The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller here!

Both of these covers are just so breathtaking that I couldn’t make up my mind and choose just one! I just – woah. I dove right into this book after finishing The Song of Achilles by the same author. TSoA left be completely shattered – believe me, I am not exaggerating. I don’t know what I was expecting from that book, but that was not it. The book Circe was a little more slow paced. It had the same Greek mythological elements, as the title of the book suggests, but brought out the power and perspective of a not-so-famous Greek goddess. Throughout the novel, the story to Achilles and his lover Patroclus are referred to many a times so I would suggest reading that novel before this one. However, you will understand the story just fine without having read it as well. I really liked how this was a completely feministic read and felt proud of the person that Circe became after the many hardships that she experienced. I was amazed as I saw her grow from the meek daughter constantly present at her father’s feet to the strong and confident goddess of magic that she eventually becomes. Each stage of her life is highlighted and spoken about – initially a young girl and daughter, then a young woman finding herself, a new witch, a lover, a mother and even perhaps a grieving widow to a certain extent. Through these perspectives, the readers get a detailed knowledge of who exactly Circe is and what she stands for. I found myself really invested in her story and was often surprised by the decisions that her character takes throughout the novel. However, Miller’s words never fail to bring out the strength of Circe’s character and the power that she wields due to her sheer will. As a Percy Jackson fan, I am completely and utterly in love with Miller and both of her novels.

The Plot:

Circe, a lesser Greek goddess, is the daughter of the Titan Helios and a sea nymph who is the daughter of the Titan Oceanus. She has three siblings but is always bullied by them and is considered the weakest of them all, bringing constant shame to the family. She has always felt an attachment to mortals and never really understood the point of her never-ending existence. She soon comes across a human man and falls in love with him. When the thought that he might one day die and leave her hits her, she tries to do everything in her power to save him and turn him into a god by begging her father and grandmother. When no one listens, she tries to use magical herbs to change him herself and is surprised when the spell actually works. Unfortunately, when her lover becomes a god, he asks Scylla (another nymph) to marry him instead. This enrages Circe and she uses the same magical herbs to turn her into something disgusting so that no man may ever love her. What Circe does not realize is that she has created a monster – not with the power of the so-called-magical herbs but her own skills of witchcraft. When she realizes this, she feels tremendously guilty and tries to get her father to forgive her. When Zeus, the King of Olympians hears about the powers that Helios’s kids with a sea nymph possess, he tries to banish them. Since Circe has already admitted the fact that she had deliberately committed her crimes, she is exiled to an island and is never allowed to leave. Here she slowly discovers her powers and the extent of her witchcraft. Hermes, the messenger of the Gods and god himself, often visits and lays (a sophisticated word for “sleeps”) with her. He shares stories of the outside world with her and keeps her informed. One day, Circe is summoned by her sister to help her during childbirth by the famous Greek inventor Daedalus who is being held against his will by her sister. Her sister is married to the Creek mortal Minos and as Circe soon finds out, has a monster for a child since she slept with a magical bull. This monster grows up to be known as the Minotaur who roams the labyrinth constructed by Daedalus himself. After having helped with the childbirth and casting a spell to help keep the Minotaur calm, Circe and Daedalus form a relationship and she learns about his son Icarus as well. The day finally comes when she must return to her island and he gifts her a beautiful loom about which many songs are made and sung in the future. As a result of this happy experience with the mortal Daedalus, Circe now trusts mortal men which is a mistake. When one day a ship full of tired sailors arrive at her island in need of food and rest, she gladly offers it to them and tries to make them as comfortable as possible. However, when the commander discovers that she lives all alone, he rapes her even though she showed him and his men kindness. This breaks Circe and she decides to take revenge by turning all the men to pigs, using her magic. Thus begins her new segment of life – she welcomes all sailors to her island and carefully observes their behavior. If she suspects that they have any ill intentions like taking advantage of her or robbing her, she turns them all to pigs, and if not, spares them and lets them travel on. Soon her sty is brimming with pigs and she enjoys the fear she sees in the pigs’ eyes whenever she walks past them. After having turned another group of men who she knew were going to steal from her, she encounters Odysseus. She learns that it is his men that she has trapped and that they are simply tired after having fought for a decade in the Trojan War. He tells her story of Patroclus and Achilles and the hardship that they have suffered. After spending time with and even falling in love with him, she reverts his men to humans and he spends almost a year with her at the island. However, the gods intervene and Odysseus must leave and go back to Ithaca, his home. He leaves, reluctantly, and Circe finds herself pregnant with his child. Childbirth and motherhood do not come easy to her. After her son Telegonus is born he screams all day and all night. She soon realizes that the number of accidents that he has as a child is abnormal and that is when Athena, the Greek Olympian goddess shows herself, demanding to kill Telegonus. Athena says that once he has grown up, Circe will regret having birthed him. Circe does not give in and uses all her strength to cast a spell over her island to protect Telegonus. Telegonus grows up and wishes, at the age of 16, to visit his father Odysseus and his kingdom Ithaca. Circe finally allows him to go but he must carry a weapon that she gives him. This weapon is the poisonous tail of a stingray which she had obtained by agreeing to suffer its wrath to begin with. The creature saw her pure concern for her son and gave it to her without inflicting any pain since that was simply a test. Ironically, when Telegonus reached Ithaca, Odysseus thought he was a pirate because of all the gifts that Circe had sent with him on his ship and attacked him. As a result of this, he scraped himself with the tail and died. In an attempt to keep her son safe from Athena, Penelope – wife of Odysseus – requests Telegonus to take her and her son Telemachus to Circe’s island as well. Though initially weary of their presence, Circe realizes their intentions are genuine and she helps them both while she grieves the loss of her lover and understands the meaning behind Athena’s words. Athena requests to meet Penelope and her son and Circe eventually has to give in by taking down her spell of protection. Athena offers fame and a large kingdom to Telemachus but he refuses. Instead, Telegonus accepts and decides to leave his mother. This leaves Circe heartbroken but she realizes that it is his destiny to follow his father’s footsteps. Once Telegonus leaves, she realizes that she does not want to be stuck on the island anymore and calls upon her father Helios. Helios’s curiosity gets the better of him and he answers her call. Circe then blackmails him into agreeing to get Zeus to end her exile and allow her to leave the island. She thus leaves the island with Telegonus by her side – they both develop feelings for each other – and she decides to kill Scylla who has now become a monster with 12 legs and 6 heads and prays on mortals. She is successful and now wants to visit her son and eventually start a family with Telemachus. The novel ends by hinting towards the fact that Circe has now been alive for hundreds of generations and wants to live a mortal life and eventually die. She makes a spell and drinks it, but the readers never find out if her spell actually works…

This book left me speechless and very much wishing to be a complete badass like Circe. I want to be a witch too!

I’m loving the fact that I’m back to reading Greek mythological books. Do you have any suggestions so that I can continue reading this genre? Additionally, if you’ve read this book, what were your thoughts!?

— Just Another Magical Soul


2 thoughts on “Book Review and Spoilers | Circe by Madeline Miller

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