Circe Utterly Bewitched Me


So I just finished this book and… wow. As many of you know, I don’t normally review straight away, but it’s the end of the year, I’m compiling lists for wrap ups and, well, I want to discuss this book before that point for *reasons* you can probably guess 😉 Because wow.

Now my love story with this book began a little before I actually cracked it open, because I went to a book event where I got to meet the author! I can safely say she’s one of the loveliest authors I’ve ever met in person. Plus, she really kindly signed and personalised both my books!

Okay, moving on from the virtual book porn- that was only the initial charm after all 😉 Once I started reading, I was captivated by the distinctive, almost breathy voice. I felt like I could hear the hypnotic tones of this goddess with a human voice. So much of the character was bound up in this stylistic, rhythmic cadence. I was lulled, wide awake, into this intricately woven world.

“He could draw you in as if he were winding up a thread”

Indeed, the fact that Circe is a weaver is a central theme, threaded through the narrative. Greek myths are picked and pinned with care into the tremendous tapestry of the tale. Themes that crossed the breadth of time were stitched into a carefully constructed legend. What I loved was how this managed to both evoke well-known stories and also build on them in the true oral tradition.

“Beneath the smooth, familiar face of things is another that waits to tear the world in two”

I will say that, in terms of plot, it’s far from typical of the modern novel. Don’t expect a simple a to b structure- because that’s not what you’re going to get. There are lots of stories bound up in this seemingly simple book. There’s romance, parenthood, adventure and more. All in all, it is a reflection of the circle of life, with all its messy particulars. It’s the heroic journey- and yet it also feels reminiscent of a normal auto-biographical memoir. From beginning to end, it is a love letter to mortality told from the perspective of a god.

“Gods love novelty. They are curious as cats.”

Circe is by far one of the best retellings I have ever read. And for this to be on a topic that I care so much about is just a godsend. Miller did a beautiful job of conjuring the Greek world. This book was steeped in knowledge. There were carefully selected details- my favourite being the fact that Greeks considered bowmen to be cowardly- that brought history and stories to life. I was transported to a time when an epic might be recited from memory and the words they were singing felt like reality. It was like there really was a goddess guiding me through these vivid visions.

“You cannot know how frightened gods are of pain. There is nothing more foreign to them, and so nothing they ache more deeply to see.”

I also appreciated how cleverly the magic system was employed. I have to say this has one of the best descriptions of witchcraft I’ve come across in books. The idea of portraying it as a mixture of will and work (and to an extent artistry) was genius. It very much added to the world building and stood as a testament to the fantasy genre. What I especially liked, though, was how this reflected the idea of her bending fate, in a way that challenged even her divine father, who could merely bear witness to it.

“Then I learned that I could bend the world to my will, as a bow is bent for an arrow.”

Consequently, Circe also explored interesting issues- like the role of women in Greek literature. I really respected the way this showed the strength of women, whilst not attempting to erase or rewrite history. This largely showed women working at the loom, discarded women and women under attack. Yes, there is and always will be room for the Athena-type, but this to me reflected the way a majority of women were treated.

“He showed me his scars, and in return he let me pretend that I had none.” 

I will admit that because there was a focus on women, I feared that much-loved male characters would be maligned. This didn’t happen. I particularly thought the view presented of Odysseus was fair and nuanced. I liked how there was a range of characterisations from the immortal Helios to the more grounded Telemachus. I could, frankly, go on forever about how brilliant the characterisation was.

“His limbs turned great and nerveless, and all his strength was transmuted into smoke. I had no right to claim him, I knew it. But in a solitary life, there are rare moments when another soul dips near yours, as stars once a year brush the earth. Such a constellation was he to me.” 

I can safely say I have a feeling I’m going to like this more and more with time. It was endlessly quotable and perfectly compelling. I for one want to just keep rereading those last two paragraphs- they were nothing short of legendary! In short:

If you like retellings, then this is not to be missed.

If you like fantasy, you’re in for a real treat.

If you like stories, well, you get the idea. Read it!

Rating: 5/5 bananas


So have you read this? Do you plan to? Let me know in the comments!

Singing the Praises of Song Of Achilles… Mostly


So I mentioned in my last post that I am a tricky customer… well you are about to find out just how tricky a customer I can be. Because, despite what follows in this review, I actually really liked this book. I thought it was very compelling, with great characters and a sweet romance. And yes, it made me cry.

For that reason (and I’m gonna break with tradition by saying this now) I gave this book 4/5 bananas:


However, I studied Classics at uni and this didn’t quite match up with my understanding of the history or literature. Now  this isn’t anything personal, I just don’t know if there’s ever a case where two classicists agree on any interpretation (at least in my experience 😉 )

Let’s start with some of the issues I had with the book as an interpretation of the Iliad. Some of my issues were merely niggling ones- like Patroclus not being a warrior (which made no sense because Miller had to adhere to the myth of having him kill Sarpedon)- yes he was gentle (epios) but in Greek terms that also means being harsh with your enemy. Little things- like explaining supplication and the blatant (and yet slightly out of place) nod to hubris also got on my wick as well. Then there were the slightly bigger issues- like the fact that Achilles really, really didn’t remind me of the Achilles of the Iliad- sorry but he’s just not that nice!– in order to make the plot still work, the author had to give him a personality transplant halfway through. Even then, his menis seemed more like a temper tantrum than the rage of someone who was practically a demi-god.

So that wasn’t great- but it wasn’t my biggest problem. Because from a historical perspective, I thought the way Patroclus saved Briseis was a *fundamental* misunderstanding of Greek culture. There is *no way* that they would have been rescuing the women from Agamemnon’s harem- for historical accuracy’s sake I have to point out that Greek culture was so misogynistic that it wouldn’t have been considered cheating on a male partner to be with a woman- being with a woman didn’t count. Which brings me onto another issue- gay relationships and pederasty (now known as paedophilia) were super common and totally socially acceptable- because according to some social commentators being with a man who was your equal was seen as the only way you could actually experience love- again women just didn’t count.

Still, I did like the humanising of the myth and liked how the gods weren’t missed out (as they are in so many retellings). And for the most part, I really have to praise this as a wonderful vision of the story and say that it has a brilliant power to evoke emotions. Overall, there were aspects I really loved about Song of Achilles, I just think that I will always struggle with retellings of the Iliad.

Phew- I feel bad after all that! Well- am I the only one that has difficulty with some retellings? Am I the only one that really struggles with this? Let me know in the comments!