Circe: A Book Review

Madeline Miller’s second novel “Circe” follows the story of a slightly unknown demigod, changing the tides of original epics and showing the power of finding yourself.

Circe: A Book Review

Jasmine Washington

“A golden cage is still a cage” – Madeline Miller, Circe 

Circe takes the usual epic stories told by men and puts them in the perspective of a woman. Not only a woman but a goddess. Circe is the first daughter of a sea nymph, but not the first child of her father, Helios. Helios is not a highly popular god, however, the way Madeline Miller describes the character makes readers believe he has the same power as the mighty Zeus. Though Circe should’ve been one of the most beautiful of the goddesses, she was seen as ugly and often called an owl due to her “screechy voice.”

Circe’s parents go on to have three more children, two of which treat her terribly and tend to make fun of her without anyone stopping them. She becomes the black sheep of her family right after her sister is born, but this doesn’t seem to be a huge bother to her. Circe stays at the feet of her father and allows the men in her family to control her actions – something she barely ever sees as wrong. However, Circe and her siblings are completely different from the other gods and goddesses…they are considered to be the first witches. 

The story progresses through Circe’s fascination with mortals as she eventually allows her jealousy of a man to exile her from her place with the gods. Circe is banished to the island Aiaia where she is forbidden to have contact with anyone else for a very long period of time. On this island, Circe grows into her ability of witchcraft through the help of herbs and nature-related objects on Aiaia. She begins to understand the ways of survival, even obtaining a lioness as her pet and tying her hair back.

Circe also learns that men are not her solution to being a person. She maintains an affair with Hermes – the messenger of the Gods and a son of Zeus – but doesn’t beg him for his attention. She also refuses to keep herself devoted to anyone but herself and her pet lion. Circe grows into her abilities and eventually finds herself as valuable, something she never thought of herself as when living with her famous family. 


As the story of it goes along, I love how Madeline Miller doesn’t try to make Circe seem like an innocent character. This book does contain a trigger warning for violence on women and assault. After Circe is assaulted, Miller doesn’t just turn her reaction to the events into an emotional rollercoaster for her. Circe is angry, and she turns the men around her into pigs, doing the same to every other ship of men that come onto her island. Miller describes the unresolved pain of Circe through these years, talking about how much she struggled to understand what had happened to her and grow from it.

Later into the story, the famous Odysseus is introduced to readers. The tale that seems so true from the Odyssey is not entirely correct to Miller, who wrote about the civil but clever conversation Circe and Odysseus had when he and his men first arrived on the island. It is true that Odysseus and his men stayed in Aiaia for a year, but I really enjoyed the different perspectives of these men – especially Odysseus. I often feel like heroes are overpraised and highly adored solely for their good qualities, so it was good to see that Circe recognized both the good and bad things about Odysseus, including what she would soon fall in love with but decide she cannot steal.

When Odysseus and his remaining men leave the island for the last time, Circe later learns she is pregnant. Though it was a pretty rough part of the book to read, I love how Miller creates all of these worries and concerns running through Circe’s head when her son is born. Her son is a fireball from birth, always screaming and being defiant. But Circe takes great patience with him, especially when she knows about a certain goddess wanting him dead. Her son, Telegonus, grows into a man who loves the sea surrounding their island. He longs to go visit his father – of whom he’s heard great stories about…some of them lies – but not everything goes as planned. Circe’s strong love for her son turns into a situation that leaves an entire family broken.

As Madeline Miller’s Circe comes to an end, Circe has to find herself and her place in all the events that have happened in her life. She has to do something that I think a lot of people struggle with – accepting their identity and loving what makes them unique. It’s a creative story that changes perspectives from the hands of the famous Greek heroes – who were never happy – and places it on the hands of a lesser goddess. 


In terms of its ratings, Circe is generally well-received. On Goodreads, Circe has a 4.3 out of 5-star rating, Barnes and Nobles gave the novel a 4.5 out of 5-star rating, and Amazon gave the book a 4.6 out of 5-star rating. A great way to tell the impact of a book is to look through the comment sections it. In terms of the app Goodreads, it’s always a great way to tell if a book is more than its cover or not. 


Elle (ellexamines) rated Circe 5 out of 5 stars. In her review of the book, Elle writes, “‘You threw me to the crows, but it turns out I prefer them to you.’ My words are not as good as the ones in this book. Circe is a book about…finding yourself. But god, it stands out so far from that.” 

Another reader, Destiny [howling libraries] rated this book 5 out of 5 stars as well. In their review, she states, “‘Where do I even begin? This was one of the most amazing, beautiful, intricate, captivating books I have had the pleasure of reading in my entire life. I’ve been a bookworm since I was barely walking, and yet this book, this gorgeous retelling, has impacted me so profoundly that I genuinely do not know if I will ever be entirely the same.” 

Though Circe is commonly seen as a great novel by readers, this doesn’t mean everyone loves it. Emma gave the book 3 out of 5 stars. In her review, she wrote, “It is with immense regret and massive trepidation that I must say…I don’t really get the hype. I really and truly don’t. Why do you guys like this book so much?” She further goes on to write about some of the benefits and cooler aspects of Circe, trying to become empathetic and understand how other readers could enjoy the story.

And while you’re at it, I would incredibly suggest reading another one of Madeline Miller’s books, The Song of Achilles. This story also has a trigger warning of assault and violence, but it’s such a captivating novel that you wouldn’t make a mistake reading this. Madeline Miller takes the classic story of the Iliad and turns it into a love story following Patroclus, the “friend” of the famous Greek Achilles. It goes through their story, while also talking about the Trojan War and the effect it had on their relationship as a whole. The Song of Achilles is undoubtedly a book that would emotionally break an individual, but there is nothing more worth it than reading the novel for its entirety. 

Overall, for anyone with a love of Greek mythology, I definitely recommend Circe. It’s a creative way to tell the story of a goddess that otherwise would’ve been told from the perspective of men (or gods), and I love Circe’s character development throughout the novel. I think this book goes to prove that no matter how hard you fall, there’s always a way to get back up.

“It is a common saying that women are delicate creatures, flowers, eggs, anything that can be crushed in a moment’s carelessness. If I had ever believed it, I no longer did.” – Madeline Miller, Circe

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