Circe Book Review, Novel Retelling by Madeline Miller

Circe Book Review: Synopsis

In this modern feminist retelling of Greek mythology, Madeline Miller shares the epic yet intimate story of Circe, a minor goddess and daughter of Helios, god of the sun. Born lacking divine qualities, Circe discovers she possesses the forbidden power of witchcraft. When Circe transforms her mortal lover using her occult craft, wrathful Zeus banishes her to the remote island of Aiaia. There, Circe continues developing her sorceress abilities, until she is discovered by wily Odysseus and his crew of adventurers returning home from the Trojan War.

Seeking to take advantage of the solitary woman, Odysseus’s men threaten Circe, who defends herself by turning them into swine with her dark spells. Through trickery and negotiation, cunning Odysseus manages to free his men from Circe’s enchantment. In defiance of expectations for goddesses in Greek myths, independent Circe chooses to take Odysseus as her lover. When he eventually continues his epic voyage back to his wife Penelope, Circe gives birth to their son Telegonus.

Over her long life spanning centuries, Circe encounters many famous figures from legends, including the messenger god Hermes, the murderous sorceress Medea, and Daedalus the craftsman. Madeline Miller, a professor of classics, brings Circe’s story to life with vivid writing and imaginative worldbuilding. Though initially scorned, the daughter of Helios perseveres to become the notorious witch of Aeaea. More than merely a bit player in the epics of legendary men, Circe steps into the light as the powerful heroine of her own extraordinary story.

Circe Main Characters


Circe Book Review - Circe

Daughter of the Titan sun god Helios; born lacking the voice and appearance of a goddess; discovers the forbidden power of witchcraft; exiled to the island of Aiaia after transforming her mortal lover Glaucos; develops her occult craft and encounters many famous mythological figures, including wily Odysseus


Circe Book Review - Helios

Circe’s father; god of the sun who lives in a fiery palace of obsidian; harbors contempt for his disappointing daughter Circe


Circe Book Review - Glaucos

A mortal fisherman; Circe’s first love; she uses her newfound powers of pharmaka (sorcery) to transform him into a god to be with her; he later spurns Circe for the sea nymph Scylla


Legendary Greek king of Ithaca and hero of the Trojan War; stops at Circe’s island and she turns his men into swine before falling in love with him; cunning and wily, he manages to outwit Circe


Circe and Odysseus’s son conceived on her island; she raises him alone after Odysseus resumes his voyage back to Ithaca and his wife Penelope


Circe’s ambitious brother who rules Colchis, guarding the Golden Fleece


Circe’s sister who gives birth to the Minotaur after her unnatural love for a bull


A skilled craftsman who comes to Circe for help evading King Minos; she provides herbs for his wax wings


Circe’s murderous, wrathful niece who begs for magical herbs and kills her own brother

Circe Book Review: Themes

In this mythological retelling, Madeline Miller explores themes of female empowerment, independence and defiance of patriarchal norms through the characterization of the sorceress Circe. Born a disappointment to her sun god father Helios and the other Olympian gods, Circe discovers her own power of witchcraft and occult craft. In a world dominated by divine and mortal males like Zeus and Odysseus, Circe forges her own life and rules her solitary island of Aiaia. Cast out to the island and expected to live in perpetual exile, Circe flourishes by exercising her will to master her magical abilities through experimentation and persistent work.

The theme of female independence can also be seen in Circe’s subversion of the archetype of a witch who must be defeated or subjugated by a “hero” like wily Odysseus. However, Circe ultimately chooses to love Odysseus on her own terms rather than face suppression. Through Circe, Miller highlights the frequent lack of agency afforded to women in Greek epics. Her life encompasses misogyny, scorn, abuse and disregard by gods and mortals alike. Yet Circe emerges with self-determination, defining her own story over centuries of immortal life. Motherhood later becomes another vital experience shaping Circe’s transformation.

Miller also explores the theme of uncertainty about one’s place in the world, as Circe grapples with loneliness, isolation and not belonging throughout her long existence. As a child of Helios, yet lacking key divine traits, Circe straddles the realms of gods and mortals. Her exile only exacerbates her solitude until she ultimately embraces purpose by helping mythical figures like Daedalus and challenging the will of oppressive deities through witchcraft. This coming-of-age story traces Circe’s evolution from timid girl to confident witch.

Circe Book Review: Writing Style

Madeline Miller’s writing style in “Circe” evokes the lyrical and metaphorical language of the ancient Greek epics. Yet her prose remains fluid and poetic without feeling antiquated. Miller unfurls evocative descriptions of divine realms, conjuring the fiery golden palace of sun god Helios: “The light came from everywhere at once, his yellow skin, his lambent eyes, the bronze flashing of his hair.” Similes empower comparisons, such as Glaucos transforming into “a sea-surge” in his new godly might. Alliteration gives certain phrases melodic impact.

As both classicist and novelist, Miller’s great skill lies in making myths feel vibrant, real and close. She masterfully recreates Circe’s voice through vivid narration – we experience Circe’s exile, experiments with pharmaka and encounters with famous personages like cunning Odysseus with intimacy and immediacy. Miller translates age-old tales of gods and Titans into accessible modern language, while retaining awe-inspiring power.

While crafting her own gorgeous sentences, Miller also weaves in the original text of The Odyssey, layering her expansion of Circe’s tale. References to poetic fragments and recurring themes from the Greek classics enhance Miller’s homage to these enduring stories. For today’s readers, her book’s uniquely feminine point of view offers a welcome perspective to balance the male-dominated narratives of Homer while remaining utterly faithful to the spirit of mythic tradition. The result, as goddess Circe herself declares, feels akin to “a voice of divinity, singing out of time.”

Circe Book Review: Final Verdict

In “Circe”, Madeline Miller succeeds wonderfully in breathing new life into ancient tales. This bold reimagining of a scorned Greek goddess elevates a once-sidelined woman into a complex, flawed and captivating epic heroine in her own right. Miller conjures the realm of Olympians and Titans with equal parts fantasy, feminist spirit, and scholarly faithfulness. Real emotion resonates through elevated language that still feels fresh and contemporary. The pacing moves at a stately yet stirring pace, like a dissolving scroll unveiling secrets and wonders.

Readers fascinated by Greek mythology will find Miller’s work an utterly transportive delight. Her mastery at immersing audiences in legends allows even newcomers to dive right in. Fans of fantasy and historical fiction alike will relish Miller’s rich worldbuilding. The themes of independence, power dynamics between men and women, fate versus self-determination, and humanity’s relationship with the divine all lend themselves to discussion. Modeling a classic hero’s journey toward identity, Circe will resonate strongly with young adults. But ultimately most satisfying is Circe herself – an underdog who grows into courage and conviction.

Unfolding over lifetimes, Circe’s chronicle makes for an odyssey that adventurous, patient readers can bury themselves in, until the hypnotic song of Miller’s words causes one to lose all track of time. “Circe” earns its place among the literary canon as a tale for the ages.

Author Profile

Susanna Nicholson
Susanna NicholsonReader, Writer
I spend my days immersed in the world of books, finding solace in their pages. In my spare time, I transform into a critic, penning reviews that unravel the magic and mystery of each story. This passion for reading is not just a hobby; it’s a part of who I am.
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