Book Review: “Circe” by Madeline Miller – 5/5⭐️

Pages: 385

Rating: 5/5 Stars

Thoughts:

*****SMALL SPOILER ALERT*****

It’s easy to tell that Miller has a penchant for underdog characters. In Circe, we are introduced to a goddess who is not only the outcast of her family, but also the most human goddess you will ever meet. If, like me, you choose to read this book after reading “The Song of Achilles”, I can tell you now that it is just as poetically written and enchanting. However, while TSOA was a love story (albeit a tragic one), Circe is more of a story of survival and self-discovery. 

We follow the Daughter of Helios as she first grows up in her father’s halls, ignored by all until she finally begins to show signs of her true power: witchcraft. Sadly, it is this power – feared by the gods – that leads to her eventual exile on the island of Aiaia. There, while she grows into herself and learns the extent of her powers, Circe is faced with a series of challenges, and visitors, that teach her more about the human experience. 

I fell in love with Circe because she is no pushover. There is a resilience to her that is both inspiring and humbling. Though she is no saint, with blood on her hands, she feels regret, guilt, and she learns from her mistakes. She has inner strength that keeps her moving forward when others might have given up. For example, early on in the story, she is severely injured by her own father as punishment for contradicting him. And later on, on Aiaia, she is assaulted by wayward sailors. (Trigger warning for those who are sensitive to SA and physical abuse.) These are just a few of the many trials she overcomes, and that’s not even touching on all the difficulties she faced during motherhood (which are, honestly, a nightmare all on their own). 

In all, her story is a long journey through time and turmoil, and unimaginable pain. She is touched by gods and heroes alike, creates and kills monsters, becomes a mother, and faces down eternal isolation. She’s quite the badass. It’s rare to find a book where you can hear the main character’s voice so well, but Circe’s voice is loud and clear and still echoing. I recommend this book for anyone who loves a strong female protagonist, and themes surrounding mortality, loss, self-discovery, and self-sacrifice. It isn’t a pleasant ride, but one that is entirely worth it in the end. 

If you do decide to give the book a read, please let me know what you think! 

Book Review: Madeline Miller’s “The Song of Achilles” – 5/5⭐️

IG: @introvertinflux

*SPOILER WARNING!*

(A quick note: TSOA is not a historical book. Yes there is action and a lot of great historical detail, but the main focus is on the relationship between Patroclus and Achilles. It’s a love story set in a historical/mythological era.)

“The Song of Achilles”, by Madeline Miller, is the kind of book that lingers well after it’s been read. It is a tragedy, yet knowing this going in did nothing to alleviate the rollercoaster of emotions I felt as I listened to, and then read, this book. (I had to go through it twice before I could sit down to write this review.) This is because Miller utilizes careful poetic language and subtle character development to weave together a tragic love story that also poses the moral question: is a brief life worth honor and glory, or is it better to live a long, obscure life with the one you love?

In TSOA, no word is carelessly used, and almost no paragraph is without a spark of metaphor. It’s rereading the book that helped me realize that sometimes the simplest line or detail can serve to foreshadow the ending. This can also be glimpsed in Patroclus’ frequent references to the past, or to death. The more we progress into the book, the more we know a “death” is coming, without fully comprehending that there will be more than one death, and more than one kind. (SPOILER WARNING: Achilles does die, like his prophecy foretells, but his innocent character dies before he does. It’s this change that leads to his prophecy coming true.) The result of such careful language is a story with a dream-like quality at times, and at others, with the distinct feeling of a long-ass love letter. I am no romantic, but it sucked me into following Patroclus and Achilles’ relationship as it blossomed from friendship, into a life-long partnership. 

I have read that some found the language a bit dense and difficult to understand. It definitely takes some getting used to, but once the story picks up, you stop noticing it.

During my second run through the book, I was able to pick up on a few more nuances in Patroclus’ character, and sometimes wondered if his affection for Achilles warped his thinking. There were a few times where I felt he was too forgiving, and he himself is a self-deprecating character. He constantly reminds the reader about his tarnished background (stained by exile). He feels he is not worthy of the other, and only later on in the book does he begin to take pride in his own accomplishments. Yet, we quickly learn that he is not only kind, but gentle in nature. Two traits that are frowned upon in a society where honor and glory are placed above everything else (even love). 

Achilles himself is boyishly charming and very innocent. He has never known defeat or rejection, and has many traits considered ideal in a “hero”. Speed, strength, charisma, and, well, the looks. Sadly, he was not ready for the world’s cunning.  I think one of the most tragic things about the story (besides the ending) was seeing how the war, and the expectations of others, slowly warped Achilles into someone who became unrecognizable at the end. He allowed the thinking of others to influence his actions, instead of focusing internally like Patroclus did. One wanted to be loved by all, while the other only cared about one person. 

All of this said, one struggle I did have with TSOA is the treatment of women. It might have been historically accurate, but god was it painful to read.  Women in this book are portrayed as items and/or cattle. They are spoils of war, or chess pieces for political agendas. If you are a feminist, be ready to cridge and scream “what the fuck?”  more than once. (I’m sure it was painful for Miller to write!) Even now, I can’t think of one woman who didn’t get f**ked over in the end. 

In all, The Song of Achilles is a multilayered book about love, honor, loss and the choices we make. It’s one hell of an emotional ride, but worth it and then some. If you do decide to give it a chance, let me know!