Madeleine Miller’s best-selling novel, Circe, revives ancient Greek mythology, breathing into it a fresh spirit of feminism and grit.
Circe, daughter of the sun-god, Helios, never fit in with the shallow, back-biting gods and goddesses she was born among. She is awkward and plain, and she lacks the deific powers that a daughter of Helios should have. Eventually, her stubborn refusal to adapt and follow the social order of the Pantheon gets her expelled from her childhood home and banished to the island of Aiaia.
In Aiaia, she learns about the beautiful and treacherous nature of mankind, the nature of love, and the surprising nature of her own abilities. Instead of wielding the powers of the gods, she carries within her the ability to call upon the power of the earth, bending and coaxing it to her desires. Her witchcraft elevates her, but also draws the wrath of the gods on her once more. Magic may not be enough to protect herself and what she loves most.
Miller’s book recalls the ancient tales of the Greek religion, bringing order and cohesion to a messy multitude of deities. Her revisionist approach imagines the male dominated narrative from a heroic female perspective.
Although Circe’s world is replete with magic and myth, the ways that women are robbed of power, agency, and voice will ring familiar to the modern reader. The goddess’s struggle for mastery of her own fate is compelling and ultimately human, as she wrestles through bitterness and fear to find her own happiness.
Simply but beautifully written, Circe combines fantasy fiction with an ancient literary heritage and a modern, authentic feminism that truly deserves the recognition it has received.