Where to start with Circe? I loved it. Miller is a gifted author, and her words practically sing from the page here, imbuing a thousand-year old story about a traditional antagonist into a rich, nuanced tale about a story woman who defies practically everybody and chooses to live life as she wants.
So, I was a fan. Circe, of course, is about Circe the witch, the woman who hosted Odysseus on his long voyage back from Troy, and who had an unfortunate habit of turning sailors into pigs. Fortunately, this is only a part of the story here: Miller reimagines Circe from the start, as a young girl who believes in love, to the powerful witch that she becomes, giving her a character arc that never once feels forced. You really believe, by the end, that she’s changed, and every action she makes feels natural for the character.
And Circe herself is a great character. I always feel that the danger with writing historical fiction (or historical fantasy, as this probably is) about famous people, or legends, is that you run the risk of being a little boring and dry with the subject material; that’s not the case here. Circe is a likeable, powerful, interesting and very human person, who makes mistakes, and speaks with a profound kind of weariness that you can believe comes with having lived for thousands of years.
Along the way, we meet the great heroes of the Greek age, viewed from a completely new way: just as Circe is humanised, we see the creation of the Minotaur (and Scylla, in possibly one of the most stomach-churning scenes from the book), the legend of the Golden Fleece unfold, and we even meet Daedalus, the creator of legend whose son, Icarus, flew too close to the sun. Again, this could feel rote, but Miller has a gift for making the old seem new again, and I was hooked on every word.
At its heart, though, this is a story about strong women, and the way that they carve out their own spaces in the predominantly patriarchal world of Ancient Greece: from Circe herself, who is banished to an island for daring to stand up to her father, to Penelope, Odysseus’s long-suffering wife, who is finally given the attention she deserves. Miller treats these characters with great care, blowing the dust off them and bringing their own stories, blinking, into the light of day. And about time too.
If you can’t tell, I’m a massive fan of Circe. It has everything: a great plot, an excellent heroine, and a way of making the old new in the same kind of way Rick Riordan did for teenagers and angsty adults (of which I am one). Without doubt, my book of the month.
In three words: magic, magic, magic
Book cover taken from Goodreads